How you can support others
Is someone you know being abused?
For friends and family
It can be very distressing to discover your friend or family member is experiencing abuse, or to suspect they are experiencing abuse. What do you say? How do you help? Should you say anything?
Below are some tips and resources to help support someone who is experiencing family violence.
If you suspect someone is being abused
Often, the signs of abuse can be subtle and hidden from public view. A person doesn’t need to have physical markings to indicate they are experiencing family violence. They may also hide or minimise the abuse out of fear, guilt or shame.
If you suspect someone you know is being abused, it is very important to listen to your instincts, however uncertain you may be. What makes you question her safety? Some signs that your friend or relative may be experiencing family violence include (but are not limited to):
- She has retreated from friends and/or family, spending less time with loved ones
- She seems overly anxious to please her partner
- She appears depressed or anxious, with a loss of self-worth
- She has physical injuries with unlikely explanations
- She has limited access to money and/or has to ask her partner for money
- Her partner constantly calls/checks in on her, is jealous and possessive
- She increasingly uses alcohol or other drugs to cope
These signs should not be ignored, however subtle or minimal they seem. How do you start the conversation? The most important thing you can do is be supportive, empathetic, kind and non-judgemental.
If someone tells you they are being abused
If someone you care about reveals abuse, it is very important to listen to and believe them. It takes an enormous amount of strength and courage to speak out, and no experience should be minimised or dismissed. Often, women will downplay their own experience of abuse, out of fear, shame or embarrassment. As a supportive friend or family member, you can help her to understand that what she is experiencing is family violence, that it is not her fault and that nobody deserves to be abused. The use of violence is a choice made only by the perpetrator.
As a responsible and supportive friend or family member, you can:
- Be non-judgemental. Let her tell her story without fear of judgement. Listening to her story and acknowledging her experiences will help empower her to seek help. Being supportive also includes respecting her decisions, whether or not you agree with them.
- Offer practical help. What can you do to help her stay safe and feel supported? This could include things like researching Intervention Orders, accompanying her to a family violence service or police station, helping her set goals, minding her children, offering her a place to stay or transport options, or even cleaning her house and cooking her meals.
- Empower her. Being respectful, kind and understanding can help reiterate that the violence is not her fault. Rather than telling her what you think she should do, ask open-ended questions that encourage her to reflect on the situation. It often takes many attempts to leave an abusive relationship for good, and risk is highest during separation. If she returns to the relationship, don’t criticise her decision; be understanding and offer your support, whenever she needs it.
Where to go for more information
The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV) has some very useful information on how family members and friends can talk to someone they suspect is experiencing abuse, including questions to ask and links to support services: http://www.dvrcv.org.au/help-advice/guide-for-families-friends-and-neighbours
1800 RESPECT / 1800 737 732 is the national sexual assault and domestic and family violence counselling service. They can provide 24/7 support and information to victims of domestic and family violence, as well as their friends and family. https://www.1800respect.org.au/
The Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE) provides free and confidential information, support and referrals for women on any issue, including family violence. Call 1300 134 130 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm), or visit www.wire.org.au
As the public discourse on family and family violence grows, the secrecy around it diminishes. Family violence is (rightfully) no longer thought of as a ‘private matter.’ More and more women are feeling comfortable enough to disclose, and often their first point of contact is with a generalist service (GPs, Maternal Child Health Nurse, Dentist, Psychologist, etc).
If you are a professional providing a service to a client who is experiencing family violence, you can refer them to a specialist support service. The DVRCV Referral Options Booklet is a regularly updated resource providing contact details and information on services in the family violence and related sectors in Victoria.
The Lookout also has a simple guide for referring clients who are at risk of family violence.
For referrals in the eastern metropolitan region, the Regional Family Violence Partnership (RFVP) has created two referral pathways charts: one for women and children experiencing family violence, and one for men perpetrating family violence.
If you are a professional providing a service to a client who is experiencing family violence, you can utilise the Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework (CRAF) to evaluate their risk. The CRAF is a tool developed by Victorian family violence service providers, police and courts that provides a shared understanding of the issues underpinning family violence and levels of risk. The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV) offers training in the CRAF, both in person and online.
Family violence and the workplace
Family violence costs the Australian economy $13.6 billion every year (source: The Lookout). It increases occupational health and safety risks, decreases productivity and has both short and long-term health effects.
By supporting people experiencing family violence and adopting a ‘zero tolerance to family violence’, employers can be a part of a whole-of-community approach to preventing violence against women, as well as creating a supportive, safe place to work. The Lookout has detailed information for employers on how they can achieve a safe work environment for all employees.