23/05/2017 15:01 SAST | Updated 29/05/2017 14:32 SAST

5 Ways You Can Help A Friend In An Abusive Relationship

Here's how you can help.

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There are a spectrum of forces at play in both the causes of domestic abuse and what keeps women locked in abusive relationships.

In some cases, it isn't possible to leave due to financial and other forms of co-dependence. The victim could be scared of possible repercussions of leaving an abuser, who may threaten to kill them or their children if they try to leave.

Divorce or separation under ordinary circumstances is a stressful, painful and often overwhelming process of disentangling one's finances and shared responsibilities -- often involving children -- from another. In circumstances of abuse, the stresses and pain are amplified by the victim's fear, as well as other material reasons blocking her from becoming self-sufficient. A woman in such circumstances needs every possible form of support she can get, both emotionally and practically.

"There are many reasons why it is not possible or easy for someone to leave" says Sifisosami Dube, Alliance and Partnerships Manager at Gender Links. Some women stay in abusive relationships for economic reasons, because there is nowhere else to go and no other way of supporting themselves and/or their children.

Shelters are not always adequate or safe, furthered Dube.

Staying in regular contact with her and inviting her out will be good to boost her confidence , enabling her to make the decisions that are right for her.

According to Dr Kelly Owen, a clinical psychologist in Johannesburg, the biggest factors that keep women from leaving an abusive relationship are financial co-dependence, financial support of children, and legal issues of child custody. Owen and Dube stress that we have to understand that gender-based violence is a "case-by-case" reality in that each woman's specific circumstances and possible repercussions are different for each individual.

Helping someone you care about who is in an abusive relationship needs to be geared to their specific circumstances. Here's how you can help.

1. Emotional Support

Offer support. It will help build their confidence in such a way that helps them realise: "I can do this, I will work through this, and if necessary, I will learn new skills to generate income" says Dube. A friend of a woman in an abusive relationship should encourage them to open up about what's going on, acknowledging the stigma and shame that causes women in such circumstances to suffer in silence. This requires reassuring them that you will not speak to anyone about the problem without her consent. Dube also suggests you encourage her to keep a journal and write about what she is going through as this can bring catharsis and healing.

Often, abusive partners isolate their partner. Staying in regular contact and inviting her out will be good way to boost her confidence, enabling her to make the decisions that are right for her, says Dube.

2. Help Make An Exit Plan

Dr Owen says that leaving an abusive relationship requires an exit plan with regard to finances, living arrangements, children and safety.

Owen suggests sitting down with your friend, pen and paper in hand, and helping them plan a "step-by-step exit strategy" with measurable and achievable goals and safety plans.

You can offer your moral support to go with your friend to open a case with the police. This is often a traumatic experience in and of itself, and is one of the contributing factors as to why domestic abuse crimes remain under-reportedly.

In the case of sexual abuse, make sure she knows not to throw away clothes or wash herself, no matter how much she may want to. This may prove to be important evidence in building a case.

You can also offer your support to go with her to the nearest magistrate's court to file a protection order. This is obtainable at the domestic violence section of any magistrate's court. You can also apply outside of court if you can show that the situation is urgent or that they will suffer unnecessarily if the application is not dealt with immediately. A protection order only stops when you go to court and withdraw or cancel it or when the court sets it aside.

Notify the necessary people and encourage her to open up to people. According to Owen, if safety is compromised this is really important but this should only be done with her consent or in her presence. If a woman in an abusive relationship is going to remove herself from the situation she needs people who know about what's going on and are able to protect her and keep her safe -- the more people who know about the situation, the better it is for her safety.

If it is appropriate, says Owen, notify both her family as well as his, who may be able to intervene and mediate the situation. Otherwise, notify a church organisation or another that offers social services.

Encourage her or go with her to notify her boss and her work place's security with a photograph of the perpetrator so that they are able to identify him should he try to harass her at work or follow her after work.

3. Moving Out

Sometimes, leaving the abusive space is first priority and police can be called later.

If you are able to offer temporary shelter, do so. If not, speak to her about the possibility of her moving in with her parents, grandparents or other family. If these options are not viable, contact Gender Links, Sonke Gender Justice or any other women's rights organisations which may be able to connect her to a safe, verified shelter.

4. Help With Financial Planning

Get her to speak to you about her financial situation and if you can, connect her to professionals who can help her. If she needs to consult a broker on how to move funds, help her find one. If she isn't working, help her find a job. If she does not have savings, encourage her to open a savings account and to plan practically how and by when she will have enough to support herself. Just be there to support her or listen to her talk about what she needs to do and when.

5. Children And Legalities

A magistrate's court can assist her in securing her rights over her children. Support her in this, go with her if necessary, and help her in any administrative tasks that she may be overwhelmed with.

Offering a helping hand can go a long way and possibly save a life. If you know or suspect that someone is stuck in abusive relationship, don't do nothing. The best thing you can do is let them know that you are there to help in whatever way you can -- even if it means just listening to how they're going to plan their exit.