In last Friday’s Saratoga, the advice column, Annie’s Mailbox, responded to a questions I’m asked about often… what to do when a friend is in an abusive relationship.
Dear Annie: Two nights ago, I witnessed my best friend being verbally abused by her boyfriend. The boyfriend was drunk and probably doing something illegal.
I listened to him yell at her on the phone all night while we were supposed to be spending time together for her birthday. It was 3 a.m., and he was demanding that I pick him up on my way to take her home. I told him no, because I didn’t want him being drunk and possibly violent in my car.
I let my friend know that she can call me if she needs anything, and dropped her off at their house. Although I’m sure her boyfriend will eventually get himself arrested for violating his probation, I feel it is up to me to report him. But if I do, I will lose her friendship. Should I turn him in for the sake of my friend’s safety or mind my own business? — Unsure in Ohio
Dear Unsure: We aren’t certain what this man was doing that violated his probation. Yelling at his girlfriend isn’t enough to warrant a report, unless there is a restraining order preventing him from phoning her. Does his probation state that he cannot drink? If so, you should report him and let the chips fall. But a suspicion that he might have been doing something illegal is not sufficient, and the police likely would not pick him up for that unless you could provide proof. And without any evidence, he could accuse you of harassment.
Please be careful. This guy sounds like a loose cannon. Your friend should call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org) at 1-800-799-SAFE and ask for help.
While I agree with their answer in that the friend is in an abusive relationship and should seek help, I’m also aware that often the victim doesn’t seek help right away and the friend is then left worried, sometimes frustrated, often fearful for their friend, but sometimes also fearful for their own safety and that of their family if their choices to help their loved one flag the ire of the abuser… and most often…wanting to help but not knowing what’s the right thing to do. It’s such an uncomfortable place to be, as you are indirectly exposed to the trauma the domestic violence victim is facing, but don’t have control over the choices that are made. There’s even a term for anyone in the position of having someone they care about, a son or daughter, relative, friend, employee or neighbor; they’re referred to as secondary victims.
Wellspring offers services to help secondary victims. To help them understand the dynamics of abuse. To help them talk about how to support their loved one. To help them be mindful of their own safety and how to set loving boundaries. To help them be compassionate and supportive, yet safe. Like all of Wellspring’s services, these services are free and totally confidential.