When a Friend Is the Perpetrator

How to recognize a friend who is a perpetrator?

Reasons to suspect that your friend may be a perpetrator:

  • They are jealous frequently. They are jealous of other people in their partner’s life. They want to be together all the time and do everything together.
  • They keep asking their partner about their location, their phone calls, conversations with other people. They feel entitled to instruct their partner on what they should do, with whom to talk, where to go, how to dress, etc.
  • They direct their anger to things in their partner’s presence (for example, break, hit, throw things when they are angry).
  • When angry, grab, hit, push, pinch or otherwise physically hurt their partner.
  • Blame their partner if the partner gets hurt, provide various justifications for the physical pain they have inflicted, tend to blame alcohol or narcotic substances for their aggressive behaviour.
  • Presume that they have the right to control the relationship with the partner. Think that the partner is a lesser or worse person, their property.
  • Keep blaming their partner for flirting, provocative behaviour towards other people, sexy clothes, etc.
  • Keep telling friends what a looser their partner is: breaks things, cannot do anything, does not understand anything, has no sense of humour, etc.

The perpetrator frequently maintains that:

  • “Both of us are to blame” for the violence, or that it is “just a quarrel, an argument, a dispute”.
  • The partner is exaggerating the violence and is painting everything black.
  • They are unjustly blamed for previous acts of violence.
  • They are also a victim (often in an aggressive and insistent manner).
  • They manipulate other people. 

How to react?

  • Acknowledge the visible signs of violence and trust the story or testimony of the victim of violence.

In a situation like this the most difficult part is to believe and admit that your friend can be a perpetrator. That is why it is tempting to ignore or deny any signs of violence.

“I have known them forever, they would never hurt anyone”.

“They are a wonderful person and would never do anything like this”.

Often, we try to deny the possibility that a person we love, respect, like or admire can be different from what we have imagined. Anyway, regardless of their public image, each of them can be a perpetrator.

  • Name your feelings.

One of the reasons why it is so difficult to talk about violence is that situations like these entail a lot of intertwined emotions. Many of us either know or have heard stories of violence from people around us or have individual experiences. Therefore, naming your feelings is very important. Try to resist the wish to see your emotions as positive or negative, just be with them instead. In this process you may experience various emotional stages: denial, anger, negotiating, depression and reconciliation. It is normal to feel sad about losing the illusion of a “perfect friend”. 

  • Talk to someone about it.

A conversation with another person can help organise your thoughts and give you the necessary emotional support.

  • Decide on your next steps.

Think of what could be done. Do not do anything that could endanger you or another person. Consult a specialist.

  • Remember why you love and value your friend.

Your friend is still your friend, even if it turns out that they are a perpetrator. This does not mean that you should automatically turn against your friend or end the friendship. Only you can decide what to do, but first consider it carefully. Be completely honest with yourself. Sincere concern about the person can encourage them to change.

How to approach the friend

  • Approach your friend confidentially and personally. Avoid talking to them in the presence of others. Sometimes it can be useful to invite another person whom you both know well to support you and to help maintain a constructive dialogue
  • Talk openly and show concern. Point out that you care about what is happening, that you are concerned about them.  
  • Describe your feelings clearly: “I may be wrong, but it seems to me…”, “I feel that…”. Talk from your own perspective. Do not try to convey the feelings of the victim or to speak in their name.
  • Avoid imperatives and ultimatums: “you must abstain from…”, “if you continue, I will…”, etc.
  • Do not analyse their behaviour. Specifically name their behaviour that you deem inappropriate and allow your friend to draw conclusions. Give specific examples of what you have seen, heard, know.

“I have seen how the other day you pushed, hit, grabbed them, etc. That was not the first time that I noticed it.”

“I am worried about the way you talk to them. I do not believe it is appropriate”. 

Several easy ways of starting a conversation with the potential perpetrator:

  • Engage their attention.

Often people simply do not understand their own behaviour, do not understand that what they are doing is bad (they grew up in a family where violence occurred daily, etc.). Here are several possible ways of starting a conversation:

“Don’t you see that your insulting words hurt them?”

“When you do this, you make them feel uncomfortable.”

“Did you really mean to be so rude?”

“Children learn from their parents. Would you like your son to do this to other women?”

“How would you feel if another man did this to your daughter?”

  • Say what you think about it.

Explain that these actions damage and endanger their relationship with the partner and other people who, including you, will not tolerate such behaviour. For example:

 “I am really worried about their safety.”

“I am surprised you behave like this. Really, you are better than that.”

“I care about you, but I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour towards them”.

“I am very upset to see all this. This is really bad.”

“I am losing my respect to you.”

  • Share your thoughts about relationship based on love.

Make a comparison between a love-based and a violent relationship:

“To love does not mean to hurt”. Or “When you love someone you are not violent with them”.

“Good husbands/wives and partners do not do such things”.

“Would you like this to be done to your son/daughter”?”

  • ​Let them understand that there are ways to change violent behaviour:

“Call me if you feel you are losing temper.”

“You should seek psychological help.”

“There are programmes that can help.”

  • If the behaviour is criminal, say it. 

Make sure they are aware of the consequences of their behaviour:

“Domestic violence is a crime.”

“You can be arrested for this.”

“I am worried next time you will seriously injure or kill them.”

“If you do not deal with this problem you will end your days in prison. What will happen with you and your family then?”