How to support someone experiencing domestic violence

1800RESPECT shares how you can help support family and friends affected by domestic violence.

What would you do if you suspected someone you knew was experiencing domestic violence?

A lot of us would probably feel somewhat helpless and avoid having a difficult conversation. But knowing how to approach the subject, and how to safely offer support, can save lives.

“Many Australians learn CPR because one day someone’s life may depend on it,” says Jane French from 1800RESPECT, the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counselling service.

“We should have the same mindset when it comes to educating ourselves about domestic violence because one day the wellbeing, or even the life, of a woman you know may depend on it.

“Given the impact sexual assault and domestic violence have across every section of our community, it is important for all of us to recognise the signs of violence in others and know what to do to support those women experiencing it.”

That’s why 1800RESPECT has launched the Support a Friend campaign. Developed in partnership with Domestic Violence Resources Centre Victoria, OurWatch and ANROWS, the campaign provides practical advice and resources to family and friends about how to talk to and safely support someone who may be experiencing violence.

“It is important for all of us to recognise the signs of violence in others and know what to do to support those women experiencing it.”

Signs of violence to be aware of

Domestic violence is more common than many people realise. One in four women in Australia has experienced physical or sexual violence by their partner, boyfriend or date.

Jane French says family and friends should look out for signs that things aren’t quite right, including:

  • She seems afraid of her partner or is very anxious to please them.
  • She often talks about her partner being jealous or bad tempered.
  • She seems anxious or no longer trusts her own judgement.
  • She sees less of her friends or family.
  • She seems reluctant to leave her children with her partner.

“You don’t need to have all the answers. Just let her know you are there for her.”

How to offer support

The first step to supporting someone is to listen to them, says Rosie Batty, 2015 Australian of the Year.

“I believe the most crucial support a family member or friend can lend is to listen without judging,” she says. “It’s important that she feels you believe her, and that you want to help her. Blaming her, or suggesting it’s her fault or she should just leave, is not helpful.”

Jane French agrees: “If someone you know is living with violence, listen to her, take her concerns seriously and help her to explore options. You don’t need to have all the answers. Just let her know you are there for her.”

To keep the conversation supportive, 1800RESPECT suggests the following:

  • Listen without judging.

Focus on what you can do to offer support without telling her what to do.

  • Don’t blame her for what has happened to her.

Be careful about your language – don’t ask questions that make it sound like she is somehow responsible. She is not.

  • Take it seriously.

Don’t minimise the experience by saying things like, “It can’t be that bad.”

Give her time to tell her story in her own words.

  • Tell her that you believe what she’s saying and that you want to help.
  • Respect her decisions even if you don’t agree.

Don’t make decisions about what she should do without her permission.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

For more information about a service in your state or local area download the Daisy App.

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