In the recent times, many people, especially women have approached me asking me to help someone they know who has been facing or has faced violence. I love that these women facing violence have someone they trust enough to share their stories with and seek help on their behalf.
However, I worry. I worry because one can tend to overstep one’s boundaries and ask the woman to do what is “right” and not what she wants. Hence, I thought a post on how I believe you can help a survivor when they share their stories of abuse would help everyone. All of this advice comes from my training and experience as a crisis interventionist that met, spoke to and counselled women survivors for a living. I am currently leading a team of social workers in police stations in multiple states of India.
So, here’s how you can help a survivor of violence:
- Listen: I think this goes without saying, doesn’t it? But you will be surprised! Most of the people just want to be heard. Listen sincerely to what they have to say and without judgment. Do not attempt to fix the situation or offer solutions. If you are in front of them, nod often or if you are on the phone, say, “hmmm.” Most women do not report violence because they think no one will listen to them. So, be a listener!
- Believe: Given that someone is coming to tell you about their experience of violence, I hope you are a decent human being that has inspired some confidence in the person. When someone tells you of their experience, believe them! You are not law enforcement. You are not the judiciary. You don’t have to decide if there is enough proof for punishment. Believe the survivor’s story. Make that belief unconditional.
- Ask what they want: You are reading this on the internet in English. I am assuming you are an educated person. You might think you know the best or are the most objective person since you are not in the situation. Let me be the (first) one to tell you — you are not. The woman (person) is an expert of her own life. Most women who seek help do so after more than a couple of events of violence. Most women seek help after years of violence. They have survived so far and have developed unique strategies to survive it. She might need your help, though. Ask her with what. It is a real simple question — how can I help you? (Repeat after me — how can I help you?)
- Do NOT advice: Continuing from the previous point, remember you are not the expert, she is. You are not in her situation, she is. Do not offer advice. No try to cook better food. No just divorce him. No hit him back. None of those work. Trust me.
- Respect their boundaries and your limitations: Going back to point 3, remember to do only what they ask and not more. Don’t share this information with anyone without their consent, even if you think they can help. Recognise your own limitations. Don’t offer to talk to the perpetrator/abuser on their behalf. Don’t offer your home, if you can’t have them there. Be realistic about the support you can offer.
- Encourage them to seek formal help and provide resources: Formal help doesn’t include only law enforcement but also women’s organisation, centres that deal with cases of violence. One organisation that you could use as a reference is RCI-VAW that I work with.
We have social workers in police stations in the Special Cell for Women (and Children) in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Punjab, Meghalaya and have helped set up similar services in Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. Ping me for more details
7. Accompany to get help: Seeking help is not easy. Walking into a police station or court or any other place is not easy. Offer to accompany them. Be the silent companion (emphasis on the silent). Don’t tell their story for them. Wait outside while they do the difficult part and you do easy part of figuring how to get back home.
8. Remember healing takes time: While supporting a person that has faced violence, remember that healing is a process. It takes time. Each person deals with trauma differently. Do not expect the person to take snap judgments (that might seem obvious to you) or not to slip back into old patterns (e.g. calling the abuser, thinking of the good times, etc.). Be there for them.
If at any point, you need you are free to reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org/@mizarcle
Disclaimer: This post has previously been published on author’s Medium blog here.