What do I do when someone I know is being emotionally abused?

by Name Undisclosed
(Manitoba, Canada)

I don't know what to do: 
I'm extremely worried about my little sister's friend. Let's call her Cleo. Me and my sister are extremely close, so she tells me everything. I know her friends and they know me.

Cleo is 13. She is one of a group of four best friends. These aren't like your typical 13-year-olds. They're smart and fun and not clique-ish at all. They're popular and well-liked by everyone at school, but they're never mean. Cleo is self-conscious. She has braces. She's kinda skinny and she has a funny combination of a French-Australian accent with some sort of speech impediment.

Cleo lives with her mom, and I think she has a younger sister. Cleo's mom has problems. My sister's and my mom's and my sister's friends' testimony are: "Cleo's mom is crazy. She's a bitch. She's Bi-polar. She's insecure and picks at Cleo's flaws to make herself feel better. She has major mood swings."

Cleo is becoming very depressed. Her mom will ask why she doesn't have any friends and why she spends all her time by herself. So Cleo calls over here at least twice a day and she calls her two other friends just as much. They don't always talk, Cleo just needs to be making a connection so her mom can't be disappointed that she's a "loner". Then Cleo's mom will yell at her for using the phone too much. Then she'll call Cleo fat and say, "How do you expect to wear a bathing suit this summer?" All sorts of unreasonable things.

Cleo cries every day at school. She talks about dying. She has stopped showering and paying attention at school. She's dieting, and she will explode at the smallest things. I feel terrible because I can't do anything about it. Cleo's mom obviously has some sort of psychiatric problem that she badly needs help with if she'll ever start being fair to her daughter. But who am I to say anything? What can I do; I'm just sixteen and a bystander. I so badly want to take this kid in and keep her with us until her mom gets help, but her mom appears so normal on the outside. But when she's with Cleo, she'll vent everything onto her just to make herself feel better.

I know this is long, but bear with me...we have a mom who only abuses one of her children, only does so emotionally, only when no one else is around, and the fact that her daughter is thirteen and "you know how thirteen year old girls are"... it's such a tough case to prove. And what she's done might not be enough to even have a case at all. But it's eating me up and I just can't stand by and watch. It's heartbreaking and I want to mentor this kid. I know this isn't a place to ask for advice about other peoples' problems, but I'll never forgive myself if something happens to that kid... please just tell me what to do.

Reply from Darlene: First of all, this IS the place to find out what to do when you know or suspect child abuse. Secondly, you are a special person for caring so much, and taking the time to find out what to do to help this girl you've named Cleo.

Remainder of reply from Darlene to this Ask Darlene question "What do I do when someone I know is being emotionally abused?" can be found below.

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Comments for What do I do when someone I know is being emotionally abused?

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May 27, 2008
What you MUST do...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

Emotional abuse is probably the most difficult of the abuses to prove; but it is not up to you or your sister or your parents to determine whether or not abuse of any kind is taking place. It is up to Child Protective Services (CPS) to make that determination.

You MUST report what you know. In Canada, everyone is legally obligated to report known or suspected child abuse. At sixteen, you are old enough to report directly to CPS. Check the Blue Pages in your local phone book to find the number. Or talk to a teacher or the principal or a counsellor at school; any one of them would have the number.

While it seems that Cleo's mother has emotional problems, whether or not she is Bi-polar or has psychiatric problems is up to a doctor to determine. No one but a doctor is in a position to give a diagnosis. Making "lay" assessments does nothing to help Cleo; which is the goal here.

Cleo's crying and depression, her lack of interest in personal hygiene and school, her ideation with death, her unnecessary dieting, and her explosive temper are all signs that must be taken very seriously. You have every reason to be concerned about her. She is at risk for harming herself. Tell an adult you trust about what is going on with Cleo: your school counsellor for example. Or contact Kids Helpline at 1-800-668-6868. They are staffed with professionally trained counsellors who will help you with some options. You can remain anonymous, if you so choose. Although they are not a reporting agency, they can help you with the process of reporting.

Besides reporting what you suspect and/or know, being a supportive friend and/or mentor is one of the best ways to help Cleo as a person. My reply to another visitor at How can I help? offers some suggestions and some pages to read on this site. While the visitor is from the UK and therefore the reporting requirements listed are different, the way you can help Cleo is much the same.

And don't forget to take care of yourself. This is obviously stressing you. Talk to someone about what you're dealing with too. You are every bit as important as Cleo is.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Oct 29, 2010
What do I do to help my friend?
by: Anonymous

Let's call my friend Maci. Maci has always tried to be a possitive person and never really used to tell you when anything was bothering her. But know she texts/calls me at night crying becasue her parents had threatned her little sister or her. Her parents have told her that they would kick them out in the middle of the street for them to fend for themselves and they are somewhat abusive. Her parents say that neither her nor her sister love them and care about them. She here lately has been very upset and she doesn't know what to do, so she has been coming to me for advise. I of course have no idea what she should do so I came here. A few of my friends have told her to call C.P.S.(Child Protective Services) but she doesn't know if she should but she just wants her and her sister to be safe. She is also having the problem of how she is scared that she will be adopted by someone that she doesn't even know and she will have to move out of state. And she has also mentioned how she won't leave anywhere without her cats so we have no idea to tell her about this situation. Please help me help her. Thanks and God bless.

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