Saturday, August 9, 2014

5 Ways to Help a Domestic Violence Victim

Written by: Fenna Vlekke

Some time ago, I wrote an article about the damaging effects victim blaming can have on someone still in a domestic violence situation. If you want to know more about the different forms of domestic violence, this is a good website. Someone who read the article mentioned that, although it was good to know what not to do, it would be very helpful to know how you can help a victim. I couldn't agree more! In this post, I’ll focus on 5 things you can do to help victims confiding in you, who are still in a relationship with an abusive partner. I've used my own experiences and knowledge on the subject to compile this list. 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /
1. Listen

This is a very important one. Often people are inclined to just tell victims what they should and shouldn't do. Of course their heart is in the right place, but often, telling victims what to do can feel threatening to them. Don’t forget; they’re dealing with someone who constantly tells them what to do already. What they need is someone who can stay quiet at times, and tries to empathise with their situation.

2. Let them know you believe them

The importance of this cannot be overstated! Victims will often feel like they’re making a big deal out of nothing, or they feel guilty because what happened to them wasn't ‘violent’ enough. The person who abuses them will try to make them believe they’re not really being abused, and the fact that they confide in you is such a big step. If you tell them you believe them, it gives them that much power to take the next step, however small this step may be.

3. Reassure them they’re not to blame

This seems easy enough, but can be quite difficult. Victim blaming is all around us, and we may have subconsciously internalised some of it. Saying you would have left already or asking why the hell they’re staying in the relationship, will do more damage than good. Instead make sure to tell them it’s not their fault and that there is NO good enough reason for someone to abuse them, no matter what they did or didn't do. It can also be helpful to tell them they’re not the only ones going through domestic violence. This can make them feel less alone in their struggles.

4 . Ask them how you can help

Victims can have a lot of different reasons for opening up to you. It can be because they’re starting to realise they need help, or because they just need to vent. Rather than filling in the gaps yourself, it’s important to figure out why they’re telling you all this. This way, you know how to respond to what they’re telling you and how you can help them the best you can.

5. Let them know professional help is available

You can tell them leaving is an option and that there are professionals who can help them with that. Try to say this in an nonthreatening, non-forcing way. Understand that by telling a victim what to do, you’re probably only making sure they’ll go back to their partner. Giving them a card with a phone number or website written on it, isn't the best idea either, because it can be unsafe for them to carry something like that around. You can tell them they can use your computer, or your phone to contact an organisation. If they don’t want to now, they can always decide differently in the future. You’re always there to help.

I understand these 5 ways to deal with domestic violence victims aren't all encompassing, but they can give you some guidelines on how to help them. A lot of people mostly want the victims (and their children) to leave their partner. Although I understand why, it’s important to realise that leaving can do more damage than good. Abusive partners generally become the most dangerous when their partner tries to leave. For example, women who get physically abused are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship. That’s why it’s really important for them to contact someone who knows how they can leave in a way that’s safest for everyone involved. If a victim confides in you, they may not be ready to leave for a while. Try to understand that leaving is a process, and can’t be rushed. If you want someone to leave and never go back to the abuser, it’s best to be patient, however difficult that may be. THEY need to realise leaving is the only way.

For more information on how to help domestic violence victims, check out these websites:

Helping a Domestic Violence Victim
Helping Abuse Victims
What you can do to support a victim of domestic and family violence
Eight ways to support a domestic violence victim

Written by: Fenna Vlekke
Country: Netherlands

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