When you become aware of an abusive situation, or suspect someone you know experiencing abuse, it’s hard to know what to do or say. Where do you draw the line between public and private? If you ask questions, are you sticking your nose in someone else’s business?
Domestic violence is a community issue. It affects those we know, love and care about. When it happens in our community, we are all less safe. As family, friends and neighbors we are often the first to become aware of domestic violence. If we don’t speak up, who will?
Here are some tips that REACH has compiled to help you feel comfortable speaking up, drawing on our own experience as well as the work of organizations like Close to Home, the Mentors in Violence Prevention Project , and Peace at Home.
1. Build a relationship: People feel comfortable sharing when they have a connection with someone. Let the person know you can be trusted. It can be as simple as saying ‘hello’ every morning or sharing a cup of coffee.
2. Be supportive: Be a good listener and let them know you are there for them. Allow the person to make their own decisions, even if it’s not a choice you agree with.
3. Don’t Judge: People in abusive relationships may be afraid to speak up and often blame themselves for the abuse. Approach them in an understanding, non-blaming way. Acknowledge that it takes strength to be able to talk about difficult experiences.
4. Let them know they’re not alone: Even though people experiencing domestic violence may feel isolated in their pain and fear, millions of people experience abuse every year. Let them know that others have gone through similar situations and have found strength to continue.
5. Don’t remain silent: Speak out when you witness abusive behavior. Express concern. It may help to talk in a calm, private moment rather than a public accusation.
6. Get support for yourself: Talk to a friend, neighbor, or a community resource (such as REACH) for support on how to approach someone who may be experiencing domestic violence.
7. Define your role: Be specific in letting the person know how you can help them (for example, they can talk to you when they need to, you can find out about community resources, etc) and offer only what you are able to do.
8. Provide information and share resources: Provide information on help available, including social services, emergency shelters, counseling services, and legal advice.
REACH offers trainings where we talk in greater detail about these scenarios and actually practice what we would do or say in a variety of situations. If you are interested in scheduling a training like this, contact our new Director of Prevention Programs Jessica Hollander at Jessica@reachma.org and learn about opportunities for your business, community group, or gathering of friends. If you need to speak to someone confidentially about your concerns for a friend or family member, call our hotline (1.800.899.4000) any time day or night. Together, as a community, we can work together to make domestic violence a thing of the past.
The above post was adapted from REACH’s monthly column in the Waltham News Tribune. Check out the print or online editions for future columns!