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Angelina Jolie Warns Domestic Violence Survivors That Their Families Won’t Always Believe Them

The coronavirus pandemic has been a crisis for domestic violence, as more people than ever are trapped at home with their abusers. And Angelina Jolie fears that the devastation will only grow worse over the holidays. Speaking with Harper’s Bazaar UK in connection with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism initiative against gender-based violence, Jolie detailed what steps people can take now to protect themselves and be there for their loved ones who may be suffering abuse. And in a particularly painful acknowledgement, Jolie warned domestic violence survivors that they cannot always trust those closest to them, their friends and family, with the reality of what’s happening to them. It’s a hard truth, but one Jolie is determined to get across: when it comes to domestic violence, you can’t take it for granted that your friends and family will support and believe you.

Jolie feels passionately about ending the epidemic of gender-based violence, and believes domestic violence would be taken far more seriously if only people were more accountable about calling it our in their own lives.

“We don’t take domestic or gender-based violence seriously enough anywhere,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “It’s on all of us. People often don’t want to see abuse, even when it is right in front of them, because it’s easier not to.”

“You can’t assume all friends and family will always want to believe and support you,” she continues in a caution to survivors. “Often it will be strangers who help.”

For those who are trapped at home over the holidays, Jolie has this further advice: “Talk to someone. Try to find allies. Be connected for emergencies. For example, you can agree a code word with a friend or family member [who you trust], which tells them if you are facing an emergency. Begin to build a network and gain knowledge. Above all, be careful. Only you really know the danger you are in, and until you find your support outside, you may feel quite alone.”

And for those who aren’t in a domestic violence situation but are rightfully concerned about its prevalence and want to do their part, Jolie has plenty of advice there too.

“Take it seriously and stand by them. Listen to them. Don’t judge them. Try to understand the huge emotional, financial and legal pressures they are likely facing, including the pressure to stay silent about what has happened to them,” she says. “And be aware that they may well be suffering trauma and PTSD.”

Jolie speaks with sadness of the need for survivors to exercise caution when they seek help, but she also speaks with confidence. As she seems to know well, putting your trust in the wrong person can be a grave mistake in a situation this fraught — but she never wants survivors to feel like they can’t ask for help elsewhere.

According to the UN, 243 million women and girls were abused by an intimate partner in the past year, and less than 40 percent of women who experienced violence reported it or sought help.

“If it has even crossed your mind that someone you know might be vulnerable in this way, try to stay close and present in their lives,” Jolie cautions. “Make it clear that you are there for them.”

If you’re in an emergency situation, call 9-1-1. If you or someone you love is dealing with an abusive person, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 (TTY 1-800-787-3224) or find your state hotline here.

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