If you work with someone that you suspect, or know, is a victim of abuse or domestic violence, you may hesitate to get involved because you aren’t sure how to approach them. Don’t hesitate. Trying to choose just the right words may prevent you from doing anything and you may miss an opportunity that could change that person’s life.
Victims of domestic violence often feel isolated, lonely, and fearful. Just reaching out to them may be all it takes to get them to open up to you and provide them with a much needed emotional outlet. When reaching out to your co-worker, there are some things that can be very helpful and there are some things to be avoided. Here are just a few tips to help when offering support to a colleague who is suffering from domestic violence.
1. Choose your Time Wisely
Pick a time when the person is calm, not just after they’ve had an argument with their spouse or partner when emotions are high. Wait until things calm down and be sure to allow enough time just in case they open up to you. If the victim decides to talk, it may involve fear and frustrations that have been building up for years. You don’t want to have to cut the conversations short because you have to be somewhere else.
2. Don’t Pressure Them
Bring up the subject by saying that you’ve notices changes in them and are concerned. It could be visible marks, quiet withdrawn behavior, or whatever applies. Let them know that you will keep whatever they say in strictest confidence if they want to talk. Don’t try to force them to open up, just let the conversation go at its own pace and let them know that you are there for them. Just the offer of a sympathetic ear can be a big help.
3. Listen without Judging
If the victim does decide to open up, listen to their story without judging the situation, suggesting solutions, or offering advice. The chances are good that they will tell you exactly what they need if you listen attentively. You can ask questions to clarify things, but the main objective is to just let them vent. You may very well be the first person they have talked to about their situation.
4. Assure the Victim that you believe Them
In many cases, the victim is the only person who sees the violent side of the abuser. Others are often shocked to learn that the person is capable of committing a violent act. As a result, the victim often feels that no one would believe them even if they did speak up. Believe their story and let them know that you believe it. Just knowing that someone believes them and knows the truth about the abuse brings a sense of relief as well as hope. Offering assurances such as: “I believe you”, “This is not your fault”, and “You don’t deserve this treatment” will reassure them of your belief.
5. Validate their Feelings
Victims of domestic violence often have conflicting feelings about their situation and partner. They may range from guilt to anger, hope to despair, and love to fear. Validate those feelings by letting them know that it is perfectly normal for someone in their situation to experience these conflicting thoughts and emotions. Also reinforce the fact that violence is never okay and no one should have to live in fear of being abused. Assure them that violence or abuse is definitely not a part of a healthy relationship and that you are concerned for their safety.
6. Be Specific when you Offer to Help
Assist them in finding other resources and support. They may be unable to research these types of services themselves so finding telephone numbers for social services, shelters, counselors, support groups, or whatever is appropriate will be a great help. Brochures and pamphlets concerning domestic violence may provide contact information for many of these resources. Whatever you do, don’t let them down. If you say you will do something, do it. If for any reason you think that you can’t, be up front about it.
7. Help them make a Safety Plan
Work with the victim to create a plan which can be implemented if the violence occurs again or if they decide to leave. Just the process of making the plan can help them visualize the steps that need to be taken and mentally prepare them to actually take those steps. When the victims leave, they are often at a greater risk than if they stay so a good plan is important. Ask them if they have thought about the steps they would take if they left and go over them one at a time. Assess the benefits and risks involved with each step and alter them accordingly.
While it is important to know the right things to do and say when helping a colleague who suffers from domestic violence, it is equally important to know what NOT to say and do. When helping a victim of domestic violence, there are some things that can actually cause them to withdraw and the situation may worsen
Things you should avoid
- Condemning the accuser. Focus on their behavior, not their personality.
- Never insinuate that the victim is to blame; the abuser does that.
- Don’t pressure the victim.
- Don’t promise anything unless you know you can follow through.
- Don’t underestimate the risks to the victim as well as yourself.
- Don’t offer conditional help.
- Don’t confront the abuser.
- Don’t do anything that will cause the victim more difficulties.
- Don’t give up. If the victim doesn’t open up right away, have patience.
Helping someone in this situation is never easy. The help and support that you provide however, may give the victim the courage they need to get out of a dangerous situation and you could quite possibly be saving a life.