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Ways to Support Domestic Violence Survivors

Hop on any of New York City’s many public transportation options and you’re bound to see or hear a message from the MTA advising us, “if you see something, say something.” That may be true in many situations, but for something as complex as domestic violence, there is no “one size fits all” way to help.

If you think a friend, loved one, or someone you know might be involved in an abusive relationship, it’s natural to want to help. However, you will want to ensure that you don’t make the situation more dangerous for them. Here are some tips to do so:

Recognize the Signs of Domestic Violence

Too often, we associate domestic violence with the cliché image of a woman with a black eye. The truth is that domestic violence is different for every person who experiences it. Only now is our society beginning to understand and accept the nuances of domestic violence, including who experiences it and why.

Signs of domestic violence can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial and can happen to anyone of any gender identity. The signs can include the threat or act of physical violence, being forced or pressured into unwanted situations or actions, and limiting or cutting off relationships because of harmful threats. If you recognize one sign, it is possible that there may be more behind closed doors. For a more detailed list of signs of abuse, visit

Learn About Language You Can Use

Familiarize yourself with objective and non-judgmental language, and emulate the language that survivors are using to describe themselves. Using “I” statements can help the person feel less blamed or attacked.

For example, “I noticed your partner has been calling you names. I’m concerned about that. Is everything okay?” Avoid saying that they “need to,” “have to,” and “should” as this language can make them feel judged – the exact opposite of your intention.

Understand and practice this safe language. Then, prepare to use this language in your conversation(s) with the survivor.

Prepare to Listen and Not Judge

There is no way to predict how the survivor will respond to your inquiry. It is entirely possible that they believe they are not in an abusive relationship. They can decide not to continue the conversation and may even become offended by your suggestion. Prepare for any pushback by accepting that survivors are the experts in their own lives. Respond by letting them know that you are there for them if they ever want to discuss this topic again and offer them resources that could be helpful in the event that they want to seek help outside of your conversation. We’ve included some resources at the end of this piece.

If the survivor opens up about their relationship, they may share explicit or shocking content. This can trigger you and cause you to make judgmental statements. They could then regret confiding in you and make them become closer to their abusive partner.

When in doubt, validate what they are saying and how they are feeling, refrain from sharing unless you are asked, and refer back to listening and using non-judgmental language

Create a Plan

Once you understand the signs of abuse and practice helpful language, you can create a strategy to speak to the survivor while keeping them safe. Before initiating a conversation, it’s critical to identify a time and place that is safe for them to speak. It should be a time when the person is physically away from their partner or anyone else who could overhear and potentially compromise their safety.

It could be helpful if you get to know the survivor and their partner’s schedules and ask questions around their availability. Investing the time into identifying a safe time and place will help ensure their safety. If the abusive partner becomes aware of what is going on, it could endanger the survivor, so it’s important to make a careful plan.

Let Them Know That Help is Available

There are many resources available for bystanders and survivors. For over 45 years, Safe Horizon has been helping survivors in New York City move from crisis to confidence. We offer crisis counseling, emotional support, assistance with finding Domestic Violence Shelters, and much more.

  • Experts are available 24/7: Call our Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).
  • SafeChat, our online platform, is available Mon. – Fri. 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. To chat with an advocate, visit
  • If you need resources outside of New York City, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

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