Love, Family

5 Helpful Things To Say To Someone Being Abused

5 Helpful Things To Say To Someone Being Abused [EXPERT]

The other day I got a call from a worried parent, concerned about her 17-year-old daughter who is in an abusive relationship. She asked about what she could do and how she could get her daughter away from him. A question I am sure is mirrored by lots of worried parents, friends or co-workers who know someone they care about is in an abusive relationship but don't know what to do about it. I thought long and hard before I answered this parent and I just said, "Be there for her."

How do I know that is the right advice? Surly there is more we can do? Well I know, I have been there. A story I tell very rarely but it feels that in domestic violence month, this is a story I should share, if not only to give hope to other young girls and mothers out there. As an ex-police officer, an ex-Disney employee and now an author and TV star, my murky past has stayed somewhat murky, but it is time to spill the beans. 

I met the man of my dreams, or so I thought, when I was in my teens. He was tall, blond, and blue-eyed, had a motorbike and was in "the Gang"; this was the 80's after all. I fell for him hook, line and sinker, and we were madly in love.  The abuse started small. Telling me what I could and could not wear, where I could and could not go, who IHe could and could not look at and to be honest I thought it was sweet, nice that he loved me that much. It made me feel so great to be so wanted.

I started skipping college to be with him, dumping old friends he didn't like and changing my hair to a style he felt was more appealing. I know, all the signs were there, but I thought I was going to be with him forever.  This went on for months and everyone thought we were the perfect couple, as did I. A few people questioned why I never saw my friends, but I had found the person I was going to marry, so I didn't care.

As the relationship got more intense, so did the controlling, and it came to a head when I went to a college interview, which meant that I would have to leave him. I went to that interview with a black eye and a much-bruised ego. I still remember the first time he hit me, all because I said I was going to this interview.

Why didn't I tell anyone?

Firstly, I blamed myself for winding him up. I blamed myself for wanting to leave and get ahead in my life, and he was apologetic. I knew it was wrong and I knew I needed out, but leaving such a controlling man is not that easy and I needed a cover or some excuse.

I did try to leave him once, but he got into a fight and got stabbed, which I blamed myself for, and another time he jumped off a building. Hard to think at such a young age that you hold someone's life in your hands. I really thought I could save him.

A tense summer followed, with several more very heated arguments, one where he locked me in his house and wouldn't let me out even though I needed to go to hospital. There was even one argument which ended in what I know now was rape, but then didn't see it that way. I wanted to leave him but he was entrenched in my life. Everywhere I went he was there, everything I did he knew about it, so I gave in and just told myself that when I left for college things would be different as he wouldn't be able to get to me.

I left to go to college and for the most part I was lucky; he left me alone, mainly because I was in student accommodation, and even though he tried a few times he was never allowed in the block. There was one tense moment about ten months later when, without him having any idea where I was, he found me on the middle of Shepherds Bush Common, four hours away from where he lived. After two years of fending him off at college, I finally decided to leave the country, and I still remember his last words he said to me before I left. "Sarah, wherever you will go I will find you."

However, moving to the States was perhaps a move too far, and the next time I saw him was years later when we were both married to other people with children, and other than a curt "Hello" no real words were exchanged.

So how did I know that saying "Just be there" was the right response?

When you are going through this it doesn't matter what anyone says, you blame yourself. I still think that in some way I may have deserved it as I could be a right monster. I am sure if you asked him, his version of events would be very different.

When this is happening you know it is wrong, you know it shouldn't be, but you don't know how to get out. And coupled with the fact you still love them it is a real challenge, especially when you are so young and have no other real idea about what love is. You can only help someone when they are ready for help. And mainly, that help should involve making that person feel safe.

For me, I only felt able to break it off in an entirely new environment, where no one knew me as his girlfriend and where I knew he really couldn't get to me.

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Here are five things that people could have said to me that would have made it easier to break away earlier.

1. This is not normal. I really thought this was what intense relationships were like and no one really told me otherwise.

2. You don't deserve this. In my younger days I was a bit of a flirt and really knew how to wind people up. So most of the time I thought it was my fault, and I deserved it.

3. It is not your fault. I blamed myself for it, especially when he went out and got hurt because I had left him. But no one told me otherwise.

4. You will be safe. I really thought he would kill me if I left and he told me several times he world. Years after we broke up, he put one of my boyfriends in hospital. I couldn't see how I could be safe and still stay where I was.

5. You will be OK without him. The real challenge with abusers is that they make you think without them you are nothing and that you won't get by.

So if you know someone going through this, encourage them to tell you, to share with you. Know that whatever they tell you will not be the whole story and let them know this. Tell them that when they are ready you will be there for them.

If you are going through it at the moment, please read these points again and then call or go round to someone you trust. Tell them you need help. Everyone needs help sometimes and it is OK to ask for it. I was too proud to reach out to anyone and as a result spent five years of my life trying to get one man out of it. Don't waste all those years like I did. 

I am sure that for those that know me this will be a shock. After all I am strong, accomplished and an ex-police officer for goodness sake! Yes, I am all of that, and I am also normal. But I was once 17 and so in love.

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