What to do

What to do if you know someone is being abused

Guidelines for Talking to a Victim of Abuse

When talking to a victim of abuse, remember to be caring and sensitive. These victims might not be ready to talk about their problems and their abusive situation immediately. The following steps are normally helpful when speaking to a child or adult about their abusive experience. The following guidelines are most useful when speaking with a youth or adult, as they have the capacity to have a better understanding of their situation. Younger children or those with mental disabilities may need additional help when talking about their experiences.
1. Listen
Talking about abuse takes time and it might take time for a victim to be ready to tell their story. It is important that you are available and ready to listen whenever they are ready. Make sure that the victim knows that they have your confidence and they have a safe space to talk. Remain calm throughout. Panic may cause the person to stop talking to you.
2. Take the disclosure seriously.
It is rare for a report of abuse to not be true. As you listen to the victim, do not dismiss or minimize anything that the person tells you. The victim might be afraid to tell you what has happened, be understanding and supportive the entire time. Make sure they know how courageous they are to talk about what has happened to them.
With child abuse, the child might have been threatened physically by the offender and told them that bad things might happen to them and their family if they ever told anyone about the abuse. Make sure the child knows that they are safe and protected.
3. Do not blame the person or suggest that the abuse was somehow their fault.
A victim of abuse may feel guilty and responsible for what happened to them. They may think they should have been smarter to avoid the abuse. When children are abused, they often tricked or threatened. Make sure these victims know that it is not their fault and they didn’t do anything wrong.
4. Seek help.
Seek help immediately from civil authorities, child protective services, adult protective services, a victim advocate, or medical professionals. These services can help protect the victim and prevent further abuse.
5. Help the victim connect with resources.
The victim may need help from outside resources and other professional help, including civil authorities, medical services, legal services and professional counselors. You may offer to go with them to visit these resources and to create a plan to help them stay safe.

What to do if you think or know a child is being abused

Guidelines for Child Abuse

If you believe that a child is being abused, you may be the only one to help them. Child abuse is often a crime that goes undetected and no matter what your role is in a child’s life, you have the power to make a difference and help.

1. Recognize the signs

The signs of abuse aren’t always obvious to everyone, and most times the child may think the abuse is normal.  Read more about the signs of child abuse and how you can detect it here.

2. Talk to the child.

If you are concerned, talk to the child and create a non-threatening environment to talk to them and allow them to speak. Make sure to choose a place where the child is comfortable, away from the person causing harm, or ask the child where they would like to talk. When talking to the child, make sure you talk casually and sincerely. If you talk in a stern or serious tone, the child may get scared and tell you inaccurate information. Make sure the child knows you are here to help and make sure that they know they are not in trouble for talking to you. 

3. Report it

Reporting child abuse may not be easy, just remember that you are helping someone who can not help or protect themselves. 

Before you report the abuse, make sure the child knows that you are going to get help and ensure they are in a safe place. If you are sure that it is not the parents causing the harm, you can consult them before contacting the authorities. If you are a parent and you think someone in your life or your partner is abusing your child, this is going to be a difficult time. It is important to be there for the child and keep them safe from the abuser.

After you have ensured the child’s safety, you can contact authorities such as Child Protective Services. Reporting child abuse varies from state to state. To see how to properly report child abuse in your state visit RAINN’s State Law Database. You can also call or text the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor.

What to do if you are being abused

Domestic Abuse

Know that you are not alone and that the abuse is not your fault. If you are experiencing abuse or harassment from your partner, help is available. 

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, it is important for you to connect with someone who will provide you with support and services to help you. When in an abusive situation, partners typically isolate you from your family and friends, making you feel ashamed or think that someone will not understand. This situation is hard, but you need to do what is best for you and your children. 

Consider calling a hotline that will help you with your situation. You may also want to consider joining a local domestic violence program. These advocates are trained to help in domestic abuse cases and are able to provide help, resources, safety, or just someone to listen. There are also support groups that offer a safe place to talk about what is happening to you and your feelings without judgement. 

If you are currently experiencing domestic violence is is good to create a Safety Plan: 

  • Plan how you could get out of the house quickly if your partner becomes violent. Try to position yourself near a door where you can escape quickly.
  • Put together a packed suitcase and keep it at somewhere safe, easily accessible, and hidden from your partner. Make sure it has clothes for you and your children, medication, important papers, extra car keys, money, and all your emergency phone numbers. Add anything else you may need if you need to leave quickly.
  • Have the phone numbers for local shelters or help groups saved so that you can access them quickly.
  • Tell someone such as a neighbor about the abuse so that if they hear noises, they can stop by or call the police or a trusted family member if need be. 
  • Talk to your children about how they can keep themselves safe as well.

If you are thinking about leaving an abusive partner:

  • Identify things that have worked in the past to keep you safe.
  • Think about what has happened in the past and how the abuser has acted. Identify clues that indicate when the abuser might become violent such as alcohol or work problems.
  • Identify what you will do if the violence starts again. Have an emergency button/alarm that the neighbors could hear. Have the a phone nearby to call the police.
  • Explore ways to have dangerous weapons removed from the house.
  • Plan an escape route and practice it. Know where you can go and who you can call for help. Keep a list of addresses and phone numbers where you can go in crisis and keep them in a safe place.
  • If possible, open a bank account or hide money to establish or increase independence.
  • Gather important items, papers, and a packed bag (for yourself and your children) and hide them with a trusted individual or somewhere accessible outside the home.

After leaving:

  • Change the locks on doors and windows (if the abuser has a key or access to a key).
  • Make it easier for someone to locate your house by having a large visible street address outside the house.
  • Obtain a P.O. Box and forward all your mail to it.
  • Ensure that utility companies will not give out your information to your abuser.
  • Determine the safest way to communicate with the abuser if they must have contact. If you agree to meet, always do it in a public place, and it’s best to bring someone else. Make sure you are not followed home. If your partner follows you in the car, drive to a hospital or fire station and keep honking the horn.
  • Create a safety plan for leaving work. Talk with your supervisor and building security at work and provide a picture of the abuser, if possible. If you have an Order of Protection, give the security guard or receptionist a copy.
  • Teach your children a safety plan, including calling family, friends, or neighbors if they are taken, and where to go during an emergency. If it is safe, teach your children to call 911. Otherwise, have the phone numbers of trusted individuals saved on a cell phone or in a safe place and teach children how to call them.
  • Talk to your children’s schools and childcare provider about who has permission to pick up the children and develop other special provisions to protect the children.
  • Keep a record of harassing calls, texts or social media posts and times you may see your abuser around the work place or neighborhood. Save and/or print any threatening emails. Keep a journal of anything that happens between you, the abuser, and the children regarding visitation.

Additional Information and Resources:

  • For help and assistance call the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
  • The StrongHearts Native Helpline 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) is a domestic violence and dating violence helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
  • The WomensLaw Email Hotline offers legal information and support in English or Spanish.
  • Learn more about the signs of abuse
  • Learn more about the forms of abuse

Sexual Assault

Know that you are not alone and that the abuse is not your fault. Help is available.

If you have been sexually assaulted or are being sexually abused, know that you are not alone and help is available. After you have been sexually abused or assaulted there are a number of steps that can be taken.

1. Make sure you are safe

After a sexual trauma, the most thing is to make sure you are safe. Most people experience shock and the feeling of being overwhelmed after an assault. Survivors can use coping mechanisms to help them feel comfortable in the face of a stressor or trigger that came from the assault. Make sure you have a support system that will be there for you. 

2. Reach out for support

Once you feel more physically safe, it’s important to connect with a person you trust for support. After shock, sexual trauma survivors often experience depression, anxiety and dissociation. Talk to someone you trust to help you and support you. If you do not feel comfortable talking to anyone or don’t have someone you trust, call a crisis hotline such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Hotline operators are trained to offer support, hear your story, connect you with resources for treatment and provide you with information on how to report the crime.

3. Consider your medical options

Many survivors may be reluctant to pursue medical attention in the immediate wake of a sexual assault. It is ultimately up to you and what you decide to do regarding your physical and psychological needs. 

You may choose to go to a hospital or a medical rape center after an assault. This can be beneficial for many reasons. Health care workers can help treat injuries and ensure that your health. Medical professionals can also provide you with a rape kit, which is a sexual assault forensic exam that can be used to collect DNA, blood samples and other evidence. Victims who chose to get the rape exam are encouraged not to shower, change clothes, and come in within 72 hours. If you are not ready to file a police report, they can freeze the evidence from the rape kit and store it for when you are.  

4. Process your experience

Many survivors never want to talk about their experiences today. Survivors are encouraged to engage in coping habits such as journaling, meditating, and walking so they can process their trauma. It is also recommended that you should seek out a clinician who is specifically trained to address sexual traumaYour memory of the trauma can change and each time you remember it, your brain can make new associations. Therapists can give you a safe space to talk and remember your trauma over time and heal. 

5. Consider legal options

You have the right to file a police report or prosecute your assailant. Some survivors choose this path immediately, while some may be reluctant to. Some survivors don’t want to report their assault because it is someone they know or because they feel anxious and shameful about what others may think of them. The idea of talking and reliving their trauma by filing a report also makes survivors reluctant to report their assault. 

6. Reconnect to life

Process your trauma in your own time. Therapy and a sense of community is important, but only you knows what is best for you and your wellbeing.