Opening Remarks to the Guest Post
The words of our enemies aren’t as awful as the silence of our friends.
Last weekend, I watched the documentary Audrie and Daisy, which explores the ‘public square of shame’ of young girls who have been sexually assaulted. While this documentary is a powerful expose of rape culture (in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence towards women is normalized), it is also a disturbing portrait of secondary victimization via bystanders. When a victim of some kind of gender-based violence (whether that be physical or psychological) reports her abuse, the response of those around her can either be a source of great comfort and empowerment or they can be themselves a form of violence.
The devastating effects of secondary victimization are well-documented (see Chapter 8 of this book for a start). However, also worthy of attention is what some call the ‘friendship protection hypothesis‘. In short, when the friends, family, and acquaintances of a victim and officials tasked with responding to sexual assault, bullying, or other kinds of intimate partner violence believe, support, comfort, encourage, and assist, victims of such crimes, good things happen. Not only are victims better equipped to heal from their trauma, but they are less likely to be re-victimized.
Mark and I had the great privilege of meeting two ladies, one a survivor of spousal abuse and the other her friend, at the inaugural Lydia Symposium a few weeks ago. Both drove a long distance to attend, and having heard their story, we asked the friend to write a guest post for us in response to the question: What does it mean to be a friend to someone facing abuse? We are grateful to be able to publish her account in her own words here.
How to be a Good Friend to Someone Facing or Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Walking with someone who is coming out of an abusive relationship will not be like any other situation you have faced. At least, this is what I have found.
I have learned throughout this experience with my best friend, that there are a number of things she needs.
First of all, she needs to be believed. This may sound trivial, but there will be many people who will not believe her, or will minimize what she says or what she has been through.
She also needs to hear you say you will never leave her. You should show her this with both words and actions. For my friend and me, this means having my cell phone near at all times, especially by my bed at night, when her fear is often the greatest. She needs to be reassured and listened to. Her fear is very real and at times almost unbearable. You can be that calm voice to reassure your friend she is not alone. She will have triggers, memories that come back which have been suppressed, sometimes for years, because of the fog she has lived in.
Listening and praying, reading scripture and reminding her of truth; these are ways my friend has needed me. Encourage your friend and let her know this did not happen overnight, and won’t change overnight. Patience is key. Leaving an abusive relationship is a huge life change for her. But you being there as a faithful, consistent presence will make the journey so much easier and better for her.
Incorporating things which might give a sense of normalcy to her life, is another important thing I have learned. Planning fun times like shopping, going out for coffee or a movie, or whatever your friend enjoys, is another way you can help her feel like she is moving on. Laughter, music, time with other friends or family can all be a blessing, as well as healing, for her. Supporting her in different ways will be essential.
Leaving an abusive relationship is a very courageous thing to do. But it is also scary and creates more fear in your friend’s life. Validation is so important. Love her. Respect her. Treat her with dignity.
My friend is not a victim anymore. She is a survivor.
I believe one of the most important things to give her is unconditional love. I have spent many days listening, praying, and often, crying with my friend. She has had so many emotions; grief, anger, despair, shock, betrayal, and a host of others. Unconditional love is vital. She will need it in your hugs, and by holding her hand when she finds out yet another lie. Through it all, you can tell her and show her that you will stand with her and weather the storm together.
As a friend who has walked closely with someone who is leaving an abusive marriage, I can tell you that God has taught me in a whole new way, what it means to bear another’s burdens. Don’t be surprised when your friend is accused or not believed, over the one who is abusing. Even you, as her friend, may be ridiculed or talked about badly if you support her. All the more reason you must stay with her and stand by her side.
Supporting my friend has been humbling and life changing for me, in a very good way.
It truly is a privilege to be the hands and feet for my Savior. At times, to be the anchor, and to remind her of God’s precious truth and His sovereignty over all these things.
How can you help a friend who is facing or leaving an abusive relationship?
Take her hand, look into her eyes, and tell her, “Friend, we will get through this together. I am here, and God will see us through.”