Talk About It
Talking about DV in our communities – We can’t address a problem if we aren’t willing to acknowledge it. That’s why talking about domestic violence is so important.
Talking to Survivors
Ask. If you think someone you know is experiencing abuse but you aren’t sure, it’s okay to ask. Even if you aren’t certain abuse is happening, it’s better to ask now than to wait until your concerns are confirmed or abuse increases. If you ask in a way that is kind and without judgment, most people will appreciate your concern for their well-being. When asking, it is best to ask face to face and in a safe environment without anyone else present, including children. Avoid asking over the phone or through email or text. People who use violence often monitor a survivor’s phone, email, and social media. If you do not feel comfortable asking directly, there are other ways to begin the conversation.
Ask a general question:
- How are things at home?
- How are you and your partner doing?
Ask a more targeted question:
- Are there times when you are frightened of your partner?
- Are you concerned for your safety or the safety of your children?
- Do you feel your partner does not value your thoughts or feelings?
- Does your partner try to control what you do or say?
Make an observation and express concern:
- We do not talk as often as we used to and I’m worried about you.
- Family life seems to be more stressful for you lately. Do you want to talk?
- You’re one of the most intelligent people I know. I didn’t like it when your partner called you dumb in front of me. Is everything okay?
If you ask, be prepared to respond supportively.
Responding to Survivors
Everyone deserves to be safe and respected in their relationship.
If someone tells you they are experiencing abuse, you may be the first person they are telling. Listen without judgment or commentary. Once the survivor has shared what they want to say, you can respond in a kind and caring way. You could say:
- This is not your fault.
- No one deserves to be treated this way.
- You deserve to be safe and respected.
- Thank you for telling me.
- I’m concerned for your safety.
- I’m here for you.
- I love you.
Listen. When a survivor tells you what they are experiencing, listen to them. Really listen. Do not try to offer advice, do not tell them what they should do, do not interrupt with more questions, do not try to provide a quick fix (there isn’t one). Listen. Focus on the survivor’s feelings and experiences instead of your own thoughts.
Be patient. When someone experiences trauma like that caused by intimate partner violence, it can affect how they organize thoughts and communicate events that have occurred. This change in communication is a natural response as the brain works to process the harm done. Be patient if their story doesn’t follow a direct timeline.
Recognize the survivor’s strengths. Point out all the ways they have coped and tried to keep themselves safe, even if their actions toward safety have not been entirely successful. Recognize that letting someone know about the abuse and asking for help is an act of courage.
Acknowledge the survivor’s feelings. It is normal for survivors to have many different feelings about their situation and the person using violence. They may feel hope, anger, love, courage, fear, and many other emotions simultaneously or one after another. It can be confusing when the person you love and who was supposed to love you back is using violence against you. Survivors have a right to express those feelings.
Trust and support the survivor’s decisions. Survivors deserve to be supported in their decision-making and empowered to reclaim control of their lives.
Survivors know their own lives better than anyone else and know best what they need to be safe (but they need your help to stay safe). While a survivor’s decisions may not be the choices you would make, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. You can’t always know with what else a survivor is dealing. Maybe the person using violence is making it difficult for the survivor to make a different decision. Perhaps the survivor has learned that doing some things puts them or those they love in more danger. Or maybe the survivor has to make a decision when any choice would expose them to risk. Trust the survivor is making the best decision for themselves and those they care about.
Talking to People Who Cause Harm
Accountability isn’t something that happens on its own; it has to be implemented. Accountability requires the involvement of others to provide growth opportunities and to teach new patterns of behavior. By involving people in the community, it’s possible to intervene well before the abuse meets the legal standard required by the justice system.
Recognizing someone you know or care about is using violence doesn’t mean you have to cut that person out of your life. It is possible to keep this person in your life while making it clear you do not support their abusive behavior. This requires acknowledging the harm they have caused and not excusing it. Still, you can use the compassion and care you have for that person to encourage accountability.
Tips for interacting with people who use violence
- When pointing out behavior to an abusive person, it may be more helpful to use examples of behavior witnessed rather than referring to behavior collectively as “abuse.” This helps to place focus on the behaviors rather than the person.
- Be respectful and call out abusive behaviors without shaming.
- Do not get into an argument with them about behavior or validate any attempts to blame others.
- If the person using violence is a parent, it may be effective to appeal to that person’s parenting sense as a way to stop harm.
- Educate them about effects of violence on partner and/or children and help develop empathy
- Challenge excuses and redirect them back to their own behavior. This can be done using phrasing such as:
- Let’s not focus on your partner. We are talking about you.
- Nothing your partner does or doesn’t do makes it okay to hurt them
- No matter how you feel, you are responsible for your behavior
Talking with Children
You can also provide support to children and young people involved by:
- Acknowledging the violence and harm that is happening. Intimate partner violence is a lot scarier for children when no one ever talks to them about it.
- Assuring them the violence and circumstances around the violence is not their fault.
- Letting them know they are loved and cared about.
- Letting them know violence and abuse is never okay.
- Assisting them in recognizing their own support system (i.e., who they feel comfortable talking to, who they can ask for help, etc.)
- Assisting them in accessing resources, such as counseling.