If someone you know is being abused, they need your support. They may not ask for it directly, but if you express your concern, it may help them to break the silence and seek assistance. The victim may be experiencing shame, isolation, embarrassment and denial of the severity of their situation and many say these are powerful barriers to them seeking help. Let the victim know you care and that you are concerned for their safety. Gently ask direct questions about the person’s situation. If they do not want to talk, try again another time. If they disclose information about their situation:
- Listen to what the person says. Give the person time and space to talk without interruptions.
- Believe what the person says. Some situations may sound different than anything you may have experienced. Let the person know that you believe them and that you believe the violence will not go away on its own, but will only get worse.
- Validate their feelings. You might say something like “This must be very hard for you.” “It must be scary when that happens,” or “No wonder you’re afraid.”
- Do not blame the victim for the abuse. Questions like, “What did you do to provoke him/her?” puts the responsibility for the abuse on the victim instead of the person who was abusive. Explain that they are not alone and that the abuse is not their fault. Explain that there is no excuse for domestic violence.
- Do not discriminate against the person by judging, blaming, or assuming stereotypes that explain away the abuse.
- Keep what they tell you confidential. Shame and embarrassment are barriers for victims seeking assistance, but fear of what the batterer may do to them for telling about the abuse is a deadly risk this victim may be taking to tell you their story. Keep them safe – don’t talk about it without their permission.
- Allow the person to make his/her own decisions. Don’t rush to give opinions or tell the person what to do. Offer options if you are familiar with options. If you are not sure about options, help the person seek the assistance of a domestic violence advocate. Always respect the person’s right to make their own decisions. The most empowering thing you can do is honor that right. Whatever you do, do not give up.
- Focus on the person’s strengths. Victims live with emotional abuse as well as physical abuse. Give the person the support they need to believe they are a good person. Help them examine their strengths and skills. Emphasize that everyone deserves a life free from violence.
- Guide the person to community resources. Encourage the person to contact Domestic Abuse/Sexual Assault Services. Advocates will discuss available services and options as well as assist them in developing a safety plan.
- Remember that safety should be paramount. Don’t try to force him/her to do something he/she is not ready to do. This could put him/her in more danger.
Examine your own life for violence and oppressive behaviors.
- Recognize people in your life who have been historically oppressed (women, people of color, people in later life, people with disabilities, people from LGBT communities, etc.) and cultivate a respectful attitude towards them in your family and at your workplace. Avoid behaviors that are demeaning or controlling.
- When you are angry with your partner or children, respond without hurting or humiliating them. Model a non-violent, respectful response to resolving conflicts in your family.
- Make violence unacceptable in your life.
- Take a stand with your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers when they make a joke about violence or ignore a domestic violence situation. If you feel too uncomfortable to speak up, body language can communicate disapproval almost as loudly as words. Turn away from the person making the joke or frown instead of laughing and do not respond.
You can make a difference in someone’s life. You may be the neighbor, co-worker, member of a faith community, family member, professional helper or trusted friend that a victim of domestic violence may turn to for help. They may ask you directly or try to deny or minimize the abuse. Either way, your response will affect the safety and well-being of that victim. Don’t make excuses, ignore it or say it’s not your business. Domestic violence affects us all and it will continue as long as we as a society accept it.