The Sista Code: What to do if you think a friend is in an abusive relationship

October 4, 2023

Contribution by Melissa Histon, Founder of Got Your Back Sista

One in four women in Australia have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner or family member. This means there’s a chance it’s happening to someone in your close circle of friends. Scary, right?

Abuse tends to take place behind closed doors so it can be hard to identify. Sometimes people make dismissive comments like: “If it was that bad she would leave”.

Why women don’t (or feel they can’t) leave an abusive relationship is complex and their reasons are varied. Sadly, they are predominantly fear based. Fear of not being believed. Fear of the abuse increasing. Fear of no home or financial security. Fear of being alone and isolated. Fear of shaming their family.

Whilst this may sound puzzling, women don’t always know if they’ve been abused. Coercive control is a form of psychological and emotional abuse that involves manipulation, domination and intimidation. It often happens gradually, making it challenging for victims to recognise the pattern. Some women may be trapped in ‘the cycle of violence’. This refers to patterns of behaviours that the abuser will use again and again: from build-up, to explosion, to remorse, to pursuit, to the honeymoon. Then the cycle starts again….

If you think (or know) your friend is an abusive relationship, don’t judge her, support her.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Listen to her and believe her. Sharing takes an enormous amount of courage.
  • Give her the space to make her own mind up. If she goes back, tell her you are very concerned about her but respect her decision.
  • Direct her to a domestic violence services. Got Your Back Sista is a support service for women and children experiencing domestic violence, or contact the national domestic violence hotline on 1800 RESPECT.
  • Record it. Encourage her to record what is happening to her. Record what you witness and the things you’re being told.
  • Make a safety plan. Provide emergency numbers she can call on to escape, have a suitcase packed in a safe place for her and her children, have copies of important documents such as drivers licence, birth certificates, bank statements and school records. It is when she leaves that things become the most dangerous for her.
  • Find a safe place for her to stay. Domestic violence services can help you with this.
  • Call 000 if you witness violence. Catching the abuser in the act has a way of reducing the level of violence experienced in the moment. Call attention to it.
  • The more that is understood about abuse and the conditions in which it thrives, the more it can be recognised and we can break the cycle.

I Run For Her is an annual community event organised by Got Your Back Sista designed to spread the message everywhere that domestic violence is NEVER ok and that it’s ok to
ask for help. Events will be hosted across Australia on 15 October 2023.

The flexible and inclusive event format means participants can choose a location, start time, distance or duration; or join an existing team, such as the AAA Brisbane, Sydney or
Melbourne teams.

Register a fundraising walk or run, or join a team HERE, and share the hashtag #irunforher. WATCH Madeleine West’s video for Got Your Back Sista in support of
the 2023 campaign.

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