Responding to an Abuser
While reaching out to a suspected survivor of domestic violence may be difficult, reaching out to a person suspected of being abusive may be even harder. Calling someone on his or her abusive behaviors may be the hardest thing you ever have to do. It could also be the most compassionate. By speaking to a friend, family member, or co-worker about abusive behaviors, you could save someone's life. While survivors sometimes use force in self-defense, these suggestions are meant to address people who engage in recurring patterns of coercive and/or violent behavior with the goal of controlling their partners.
When you speak to an abuser:
- Be aware of the ability some batterers have to charm and manipulate.
- Don't be judgmental of the person, just their behavior. If you know what happened and you express anger or personal condemnation, he is likely to retaliate against the person he has victimized.
- Don't make excuses for the behavior or reinforce it in any way.
- Maintain that there is no excuse for violence. "When you hurt somebody, you cross the line."
- Advise stopping the abuse (just as you would advise someone not to drive drunk).
- Suggest other ways of handling conflict and possible resources in the area.
- Do not blame the survivor.
- Do not ask how the survivor provoked the batterer.
- Do not encourage the person to find an attorney that will "fight this all the way."
- Speak to the survivor's reality as you know it, especially the extent of the survivor's physical or emotional injuries.
- If there are children, help the abuser think about the impact the situation is having on them.
- Acknowledge the many ways that children can witness the violence: seeing it, hearing it, seeing injuries, seeing their parents’ sadness afterwards
- Remind the person that only he/she controls his/her behavior. No one can make him/her be abusive or lose control. "No matter what you feel, you are responsible for what you do."
- Do not assume that the person understands the meaning of protective orders, no contact orders, restraining orders, child support orders, or other court orders.
- If the court has ruled on parenting privileges, remind the person that the purpose of parenting time is to maintain contact with the children, not the former partner.
- Do not assume the victim is safe if he/she says it won't happen again, even if the person who has been abusive is remorseful.
- Do not try to physically intervene. Rather, call law enforcement.
- If an abuser says or does something that indicates that the person he has victimized is going to be in imminent danger of assault, please call the authorities and let them know (after he has left). Do not feel guilty about calling law enforcement. You might be saving someone's life.
If a colleague, friend or relative tells you that he/she has been violent at home, the following comments are helpful responses.
- "I know you believe she/he started it, but you chose to respond the way you did. No one can make you be violent or abusive."
- "It doesn't have to be this way. You can get help. You can learn to control the way you react. There are other people who have been where you are and can help."
Help is available.
If you believe there is imminent danger, call 911.
University employees who are abusive in their relationships can be referred to the University of Michigan Health System Employee Assistance Program (734-763-3409) or to the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (734-936-8660) on the Ann Arbor main campus.
Alternatives to Domestic Aggression of Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw is an intervention program for people who use violence in their intimate relationships. They can be reached at 734-971-9781.
Additional resources are available in the Regional Resources section of the Abuse Hurts website or from the Batterers Intervention Provider Standards Compliance Council.