Once October hits, a lot of us have the same thoughts in mind: autumn, football, sweater weather, pumpkin-spice everything, and preparing for Halloween. As much as I love spooky festivities, October isn’t just about ghosts, goblins, and costumes. It is also the month that we bring awareness to a scarier monster: domestic violence.
This is a real monster that many people are facing every day. For domestic abuse victims, everyday life can be lonely, isolated, and filled with fear. You may know or suspect that someone in your life is a victim, but may feel clueless on how to help. In today’s blog, I’m sharing 8 ways to support someone in this vulnerable situation.
Make Time, Make Space.
It’s best to reach out to an abuse victim during a calm time. Intervening while tempers are flaring can be dangerous for the victim, as well as yourself. Make sure to set aside plenty of time to have this conversation. If the person decides to disclose years of pent-up fear and frustration, you will not want to end the conversation because you have another commitment.
Be Gentle and Take It Slow.
You may be thinking, “OK, this is intense stuff. How do I even start?” Perhaps bring up the topic by saying that you’ve noticed some changes that concern you: wearing clothing to cover up bruises, or that the person has suddenly become unusually withdrawn and quiet – both can be signs of abuse. Do not try to force the person to open up; let the conversation unfold at a comfortable pace. Take it slow and easy. Even if the conversation doesn’t happen, it’s enough to leave them knowing that you are available and offering a sympathetic ear when they’re ready.
Listen Without Judgement.
If the victim does decide to open up, listen without being judgmental, offering advice, or suggesting solutions. You can ask clarifying questions, but mainly just let them vent their feelings and fears. You may be the first person they confide in.
Believe the Victim’s Story.
One reason why many domestic abuse victims never tell their story is the fear that no one will believe them. To finally have someone who knows the truth about their struggles can bring a huge sense of hope and relief. Offer the victim these assurances: I believe you. This is not your fault. You don’t deserve this.
Validate the Victim’s Feelings.
Victims often experience a wide range of conflicting feelings about their partner and situation: guilt, anger, hope, despair, love, and fear. The best way to show support is to validate their feelings by letting them know that having conflicting thoughts is normal. However, it is also important that you confirm that violence is not okay and it isn’t normal to live in fear of being physically attacked. Without judging, confirm that their situation is dangerous and you are concerned for their safety.
Sometimes the victim isn’t in a position to find outside help. This is where you come in. Look up telephone numbers for shelters, social services, attorneys, counselors, or support groups. If available, offer brochures or pamphlets about domestic violence.
Help Form a Safety Plan
Help the victim create a safety plan that can be put into action if violence occurs again or if they decide to leave the situation. By “safety plan”, I mean asking what they would do and where they would go. Help the victim think through each step of the safety plan, weighing the risks and benefits of each option. Think of ways to reduce the risks. Just the exercise of making a plan can help the victim visualize which steps to take and to psychologically prepare them to do so.
If Things Get Bad, Call the Police
If you know that violence is actively occurring; that is, if you hear or see physical abuse taking place, call the police. The police are the most effective way to remove the immediate danger to the victim.
Talking about domestic violence is never fun or easy, but it’s a dark reality we must have the courage to face. Unfortunately, deciding whether or not to have this conversation with a victim can sometimes mean life and death. Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing prevent you from reaching out. Waiting for the perfect words could keep you from seizing the opportunity to change a life.