This article contains references to domestic abuse and may be triggering for some readers. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
When victim-survivors of domestic and family violence (DFV) are asked to reflect on how their friends and family could have best supported them when they needed it, they tend to repeat two words:
They wish they had been listened to. And believed.
They don't look back and think anyone on the outside should've intervened. That they needed a saviour to turn up at their door, 'rescue' them from their abuser and force them to leave.
They know the implicit risk that comes with leaving - that the period just before and after leaving is often the most dangerous.
Instead, they ask that we - as people who are likely to know and love someone, at some point in our lives, who experiences DFV - listen and believe.
Don't be scared to ask. Then listen without judgment, and believe what they're saying.
The abuse you can't see
The term 'domestic violence' in some ways does a disservice to the reality of intimate partner abuse. While 'violence' evokes images of bruises and broken bones, physical fights and calls to the police, the reality is far more complex.
DFV might be better described as ‘intimate terrorism,’ the experience of living under coercive control, which can manifest in a number of insidious ways.
Psychological terror, caused by actions like isolating a person from their family and friends, threatening to estrange them from their children, limiting their spending or implementing strict rules for how they must behave, is a way for abusers to restrict the freedoms of their victim without leaving marks behind. To those on the outside, these types of abuse might be invisible.
That's why it's so important to listen and believe. Because you won't always be able to see the signs of DFV.
Listen: For one week, Mamamia's No Filter podcast focused on stories of overcoming DFV. Post continues after audio.
But how does a victim-survivor know who they can trust? Who they can go to and be supported, without worrying that the situation could be escalated?
What to do if someone you know is experiencing abuse
Speaking to Mamamia earlier this year, Dr Susan Heward-Belle, a leader in DFV research, said if you witness or overhear immediate physical assault, then you should call the police. However, if you recognise that someone close to you is caught in an ongoing pattern of coercive control, you need to be wary of how you approach the situation.