How to approach someone you think may be abused:
If someone you know is being abused, they need your support. They may not ask for it directly, but if you express your concern, it may help them to break the silence and seek assistance. The victim may be experiencing shame, isolation, embarrassment and denial of the severity of their situation. Many victims say fear, shame and embarrassment are powerful barriers to their seeking help. Let the victim know you care and that you are concerned about their safety. Gently ask direct questions about the person’s situation. If they do not want to talk, try again another time. If they disclose information about their situation:
- Listen to what the person says. Give the person time and space to talk without interruptions.
- Believe what the person says. Some situations may sound different than anything you may have experienced. Let the person know that you believe them and that you believe the violence will not go away on its own, but will only get worse. If you were ever abused, share your experiences; this may help the person feel that they are not alone.
- Do not blame the victim for the abuse. Questions like, “What did you do to provoke him?” put the responsibility for the abuse on the victim instead of the person who was abusive. Explain that they are not alone and that the abuse is not their fault. Explain that there is no excuse for domestic violence.
- Do not discriminate against the person by judging, blaming, or assuming stereotypes that explain away the abuse.
- Keep what they tell you confidential. Shame and embarrassment are barriers for victims seeking assistance, but fear of what the batterer may do to them for telling about the abuse is a deadly risk this victim may be taking to tell you their story. Keep them safe – don’t talk about it without their permission.
- Allow the person to make his or her own decisions. Don’t rush to give opinions or tell the person what to do. Offer options if you are familiar with options. If you are not sure about options, help the person seek the assistance of a domestic violence advocate. Always respect the person’s right to make their own decisions. The most empowering thing you can do is honor that right. Whatever you do, do not give up.
What to do if you hear or see an assault in progress:
- Call 911 and report the incident. For many reasons, you may not be comfortable calling the police. If the incident was a burglary, fire, or stranger assault, would you be as uncomfortable? Domestic violence is an assault on a person that can be deadly. It is a crime and that makes it your business.
- Report as many details as possible – parties involved, location, license plate, if weapons are involved.
- Assess the situation carefully before deciding how to intervene. These incidents can be dangerous. You can create attention to the scene by honking your horn or trying to draw a crowd.
Learn more about domestic violence.
- Contact your local domestic violence program and participate in a volunteer or community training. Familiarize yourself with the name of the program, what services they offer and how to contact them. (See Member Programs page.)
- Read the, “A Safer State of Family, A Handbook for Helpers.” (See resources page.) This booklet details the dynamics of domestic violence and it takes a closer look at how domestic violence effects the lives of traditionally underserved communities (people of color, people with disabilities, people in later life and people in gay and lesbian relationships). The booklet includes a detailed safety plan to assist a victim of domestic violence with options and decisions when either staying in or leaving an abusive relationship.
Help make information available to victims.
- Give a brochure (see resources page) to someone you know who may be in need of assistance. (For additional informational materials, contact your local licensed domestic violence program.)
- Display brochures or posters in your place of business, community center or other places you think might reach potential victims.
- Put stickers with the name and number for the Domestic Violence hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, on stall doors and bathroom mirrors in women’s rooms, hair/nail style salon mirrors, at bus stop benches and shelters, on the handles of shopping carts, at checkout registers or other prominent eye-resting spots.
Examine your own life for violence and oppressive behaviors.
- Recognize people in your life who have been historically oppressed (women, people of color, people in later life, people with disabilities, people from LGBT communities, etc.) and cultivate a respectful attitude towards them in your family and at your workplace. Avoid behaviors that are demeaning or controlling.
- When you are angry with your partner or children, respond without hurting or humiliating them. Model a non-violent, respectful response to resolving conflicts in your family. Call a domestic violence or child abuse prevention program for their help if you hurt members of your family.
- Make violence unacceptable in your life.
Take a public stand against domestic violence.
- Take a stand with your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers when they make a joke about violence or ignore a domestic violence situation. Let them know that domestic violence is everyone’s business. If you feel too uncomfortable to speak up, body language can communicate disapproval almost as loudly as words. Turn away from the person making the joke or frown instead of laughing and do not respond.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to raise awareness about the issue of domestic violence.
- Ask your local radio station to donate airtime to play a public service announcement about domestic violence prevention. (Free public service announcements are available upon request by contacting the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 304-965-3552).
- If you are a man, go to our Leadership Challenge for Men and learn about how men can help end violence against women.
- Write to music producers, movie companies, Internet businesses, video game producers, and TV stations to speak out about violence.
- Develop a domestic violence safety campaign in your workplace, neighborhood, school, or community of faith. Build a consensus among your colleagues and neighbors that abusive behavior and language is unacceptable.
- Ask your physician and other health care professionals if they receive training about domestic violence and follow the diagnostic and treatment guidelines about domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse developed by the American Medical Association.
How your group or community can help
You may belong to one or more community organizations that can take a stand against domestic violence. These organizations can be formal or informal and can include such entities as: faith based organizations, employment based organizations, private businesses, youth groups, sports organizations, civic organizations, senior centers, social groups, home owners groups, community watch groups, special interest groups, informal neighborhood groups, parenting groups, school based groups, or any other group you connect with. Any place where people come together for a common purpose is an opportunity to educate and raise awareness about an issue that affects us all. A group or community-based approach to ending violence is a very effective way of reaching out to a greater number of people. Resources, time and creative energy can be combined to create changes in attitudes and behaviors. People working together can send a community wide message that there’s no excuse for domestic violence and it is our business.
How you can get your group started:
- Contact your local domestic violence program and invite them to come and speak to your group. Learn more about the issue and what the needs are for your community.
- Determine a focus for your response. You may choose to reach out to a particular group of people such as people of color, people with disabilities, people in later life, the gay and lesbian community, men, healthcare workers, clergy, teens, parents, or other groups.
- Determine your message. If you plan to reach potential victims, you may want to focus your message on what domestic violence is and where they can go for assistance. If you are reaching out to potential responders to domestic violence, your message may be that domestic violence is your business.
- Determine how to get your message to the group you are focusing on. There are many ways to reach people ranging from word of mouth to extensive media campaigns. Some simple suggestions and sample public awareness materials are included in this packet.
Help make information available to victims.
- Ask your group to display brochures and posters in your place of business, community center or other places you think might reach potential victims. (For additional informational materials, contact your local domestic violence program.)
- Distribute the booklet, “A Safer State of Family, A Handbook for Helpers” to members of your group. This booklet details the dynamics of domestic violence and it takes a closer look at how domestic violence effects the lives of traditionally underserved communities (people of color, people with disabilities, people in later life and people in gay and lesbian relationships). The booklet includes a detailed safety plan to assist a victim of domestic violence with options and decisions whether staying in or leaving an abusive relationship.
Make a public stand against domestic violence.
- Within your group, recognize people in your life who have been historically oppressed (women, people of color, people in later life, people with disabilities, people from LGBT communities, etc.) and cultivate a respectful attitude towards them. Avoid behaviors that are demeaning or controlling.
- Model a non-violent, respectful response to resolving conflicts in your group. If you know someone in your group who may be perpetrating domestic violence, talk with them. Let them know that there are places they can call for help. Refer them to your local domestic violence or child abuse prevention program.
- Take a stand with your group, family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers when they make a joke about violence or ignore a domestic violence situation. Let them know that domestic violence is everyone’s business. If you feel too uncomfortable to speak up, body language can communicate disapproval almost as loudly as words. Turn away from the person making the joke or frown instead of laughing and do not respond.
- Ask your local radio station to donate airtime to play public service announcements (Free public service announcements are available upon request by contacting the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 304-965-3552).
- If your group involves men, refer them to A Call to Men to learn about men working to end violence against women.
- Advocate within your group for appropriate services for underserved communities, such as those who do not speak English, people with disabilities, people in later life, people of color and gay and lesbian communities.
- Adopt-an-agency for a year. Contact your local domestic violence program and find out what their needs are for a year and help them meet those needs.
- Advertise your group’s stand through news media. Develop a press release to notify others about what your group is doing. Solicit time with media representatives to get the word out. Read the enclosed Media Kit.
- Add a link from your organization’s web site that connects with a local domestic violence program’s web site, the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.wvcadv.org, or a national site that more specifically addresses your group’s focus. (See the resources page).
- In your group, create an environment where a victim can feel comfortable coming forward for help by placing posters, condemning domestic violence in public places, drinking from coffee mugs which sport anti-domestic violence messages or wearing THERE’S NO EXCUSE FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE T-shirts.
- Involve your local Parent Teacher Association or school board and ask them to address dating violence or schedule a fundraiser for your local domestic violence program.
- Involve your community of faith by scheduling a special service devoted to violence against women and children, or plan a 3 hour workshop and show “Broken Vows,” an excellent video study on religious responses to violence in the family (available through FaithTrust Institute)
You can make a difference in someone’s life. As an individual, you can do many things to help change the life of a victim of domestic violence. You may be the neighbor, co-worker, member of a faith community, family member, professional helper or trusted friend that a victim of domestic violence may turn to for help. They may ask you directly or try to deny or minimize the abuse. Either way, your response will affect the safety and well-being of that victim. Don’t make excuses, ignore it or say it’s not your business. Domestic violence affects us all and it will continue as long as we as a society accept it as someone else’s problem. Help break the silence – domestic violence is your business!