By WHITE RIBBON AUSTRALIA
We would all like to believe that the people we know and love – our family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues – live free from violence. However, statistics reveal that one in three Australian women over the age of 15 have reported experiencing physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives. Violence against women transcends the boundaries of age, culture, ethnicity, religion, disability, and socio-economic status. It can happen to anyone and many women deal with it alone.
It can be difficult to know how to appropriately offer support or intervene in circumstances of violence. Nonetheless, a growing number of people are asking: ‘How can I offer support to someone experiencing domestic violence? What can I do if I realise a man I know is abusing and controlling his female partner? How can I be part of the solution to prevent men’s violence against women?’
If you suspect someone you know is being abused:
Many people still perceive domestic and family violence as a ‘private matter’ and worry they will be seen as ‘interfering’ if they say something or offer support. But violence has a profound and damaging impact on its victims, the family and the community as a whole.
We all have an obligation to speak out and not remain silent. If done sensitively, expressions of concern and support can help a woman experiencing abuse feel less isolated and reinforce the message that men’s violence against women is never the women’s fault and should not be tolerated.
- Approach in an uncritical, sensitive manner.
- Tell her you’re concerned and explain why – ‘I’ve noticed you have been withdrawn lately. I’m worried.’
- Be patient and don’t force the issue.
- Don’t be offended if she chooses not to disclose her experience. Commonly held misconceptions about men’s violence against women can make it difficult for victims/survivors to speak about their experience.
- Just knowing you’re there can make a difference.
Violence against women is under-reported, and research shows that a victim of violence is more likely to discuss and disclosed their experience to a friend or family member than to the police or another public authority.
When you respond supportively and respectfully to a female friend, work colleague, or other who is living with violence, it makes a difference. Abused women’s psychological wellbeing and their ability to escape from abuse are shaped by the levels of material and emotional support they receive.
It is important to know how to react if this occurs. If someone starts talking to you, some simple advice includes:
- Find a safe/quiet place to talk.
- Listen – this may be the first time she has spoken about the experience.
- Believe her story – too often people do not believe a woman when she first discloses abuse.
- Hold the perpetrator responsible for the violence and abuse.
- Maintain a non-judgmental attitude and reassure her that it is not her fault
- Focus on supporting her and building her self confidence
- Acknowledge her strengths and frequently remind her that she is coping with a challenging and stressful situation.
- A woman suffering abuse often feels isolated – help her develop or continue her outside contacts.
- If she has not spoken to anyone else, encourage her to seek help from local domestic violence agencies that understand her experience and offer specialist support and advice (see link below).
- Be patient and support her choices – don’t dictate them.
If you witness violence: