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October 11, 2005

How Do You Begin a Conversation?

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If you suspect a friend or coworker is being abused, sharing your concerns with her rather than tentatively whispering them to a mutual friend is the most helpful thing you can do. One conversation might not solve her problem, but it will remind her that she has an ally. We consulted Kim Wells, executive director of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, and Allegra Perhaes, vice president for domestic violence shelter programs at Safe Horizon, for some easy opening lines.

If you're worried about a friend or relative, the key is to avoid passing judgment or using accusatory words, like violence and abuse. And always have a hotline number on hand when you have this conversation: Safe Horizon, 1-800-799-SAFE.

Start by saying: "Andrea, I'm worried about you. You don't look happy; you're not smiling as much as you used to. I feel like Alex is demanding a lot of your attention lately. You've called him three times in the half hour we've been together. You always have to ask him for money, even to go to a movie. Is there anything you want to talk about?"

If she brushes you off, say: "Okay, I'm glad to hear nothing's up. But I'm always here to talk, if anything changes. I really care about you."

And a few weeks later follow up with: "You know Andrea, you still seem pretty tense. I'm really concerned. I don't mean to be a nag, but I want you to know that I'm here if you ever want to talk."

But if she admits there is a problem, listen first, without interrupting. Then say: "I'm so glad you confided in me. You know how much I care about you, and I understand how hard it must be to figure things out alone. I'm here any time you want to talk. But you also might want to get in touch with an expert: Here's a hotline number you can call, and here's the address of a local center where we can go together ‑- if you want ‑- to get more information. The main thing is that I'm here for you whenever. This is a serious situation that isn't likely to get better without help."

And a few weeks later follow up with: "How are things going with Alex? Any progress? I've been thinking about you guys a lot."

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