How to Help Someone Who is Violent

It is difficult to see someone you care about hurt others. Violence is a choice, and ultimately, the abuser is the only person who can decide to change. However, there are things that you can do to encourage this change. As a friend or family member, your actions can make a difference.

What Do I Need to Know?

When friends and family remain silent or excuse violence, the abusive person is encouraged to continue the violence. It may be difficult to admit that your friend or family member is violent, but you may have the greatest ability to influence the abuser to change.

It is not easy for abusers to admit that their violence is a choice or to accept responsibility for their behaviour. An abuser may benefit from having control over their partner and may turn to you to help justify the violence. Do not support the violence in any way. This does not mean you are turning against your friend or family member; you are simply helping them to have the healthy relationship that they deserve.

What Can I Do?

  • Never tell an abuser anything their partner has told you.
  • Learn about intimate partner violence yourself so you can help your friend or family member recognize their violent behaviors.
  • Identify the violence when you see it. Remember to criticize the behaviour, not the person, or you will only succeed in making them defensive.
  • Educate the abuser about the different types of violence. Help them to realize the consequences of their behaviour. Offer your support if they choose to seek help.
  • Your friend or family member may try to blame the victim for the violence. Don’t support these feelings or help to justify the violence. Help them recognize that anger is an acceptable emotion, but hurting someone is not.
  • Help the abuser focus on the victim’s feelings and the serious harm the victim is experiencing because of the violence.
  • Be aware of minimizing, denying and shifting blame, and don’t support efforts to minimize the severity of the violent behavior.
  • Don’t ignore violence that you hear about or see. Your silence helps the abusive person to deny that their behaviour is wrong.
  • Stay in touch with your friend or family member about the violence. Be there to support the abuser to change in the long term.
  • Remind your friend or family member that change will create better, healthier relationships with all the people in their life.
  • Take time to acknowledge the abuser’s strengths. Put-downs only reinforce the insecurity that is often at the root of their behavior.
  • Be clear that violence is always a choice, and that it is preventable. Acknowledge that it takes courage to talk about violence and to seek help to change. Offer your support if they choose to seek help.
  • Convince the abuser that getting professional help is important and have a list of resources ready.
  • Help the abuser to accept responsibility for the violence. Violence does not happen because one is “provoked” or “drunk.” Violence is a choice, and is used to gain power over another person.
  • Don’t give up. Behavioural changes can take a long time.

Set a positive example by building healthy, violence-free relationships in your own life!