How Can We Support Domestic Violence Survivors? Let Them TALK


If someone in your life has been subjected to domestic violence (also known as domestic abuse or intimate partner violence), it can be hard to figure out how best to support them. Do you keep your distance and give them space? Do you put in extra effort to stay close in case they don’t want to be alone? Do you try and ask them about their experiences? Or do you purposefully avoid the subject for fear of dredging up traumatic memories?

If you’re ever unsure how you can help a domestic violence survivor in your life, it’s often best to just remember a simple four-letter word: TALK.

two women converse outside in a garden

Seek First to Understand

Now, we don’t mean to imply that *you* should be the one talking. In fact, a core part of how we do our work here at REACH Beyond Domestic Violence is teaching the exact opposite approach. We want to *listen* to survivors, let them tell their own stories in their own way. We don’t want to pressure them, or try to get specific answers out of them, or purposefully lead them into discussing subjects they’re not ready to discuss.

TALK refers to an acronym highlighted in this guide to sexual consent from Innerbody Research, an organization dedicated to educating readers about personal health and wellness. The TALK acronym, which was coined by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), was originally created to help those working with survivors of sexual assault, but it can be useful when working with domestic violence survivors as well.

The TALK acronym is as follows:

  • Thank the person for telling you about their experience
  • Ask how you can help them
  • Listen to their story without judgement or intense reactions
  • Keep supporting them for as long as they need
Mom and Son

Helping by Listening

The flow of actions that the TALK acronym leads you through closely mirror REACH’s own philosophy towards working with domestic violence survivors; particularly how you should focus more on listening and resisting the urge to jump in and try to help by offering advice. As both REACH and Innerbody Research strive to teach, ultimately the survivor knows what’s best for them, and as empathetic listeners the best thing we can do is respect that fact.

The survivor may struggle to articulate parts of their experience, they might try to downplay certain elements, or they might not even know what they need right away. That’s all totally ok and normal, and as the listener if you’re there for them in a supportive, non-judgmental way, you’re already doing your part. This can be especially true in cases of teen dating violence, where teens (who typically have a lot going on already), often worry they’ll be shamed, doubted, or even blamed for speaking up about any intimate partner violence they experience.

TALK shouldn’t be treated as an easy catch-all solution, especially since each individual domestic violence survivor will have their own healing processes and comfort levels. However, it can help anyone who wants to support survivors do so in a respectful, safe, and effective manner. For more on how you can effectively take care of both yourself and those you care about, we encourage you to read more about engaging with local communities and peers, and about Innerbody Research and their mission.