7 ways to support a domestic violence survivor
Acts of domestic violence occur every day, mostly behind closed doors. Nicole Glaser, manager of healing and advocacy services at Aurora Health Care, shares how you can support someone you know.
1. Learn the warning signs
Physical: Look for black eyes, swollen lips, red or purple marks on the neck, sprained wrists or bruised arms.
Emotional: Survivors may have low self-esteem, be overly apologetic, fearful, experience changes in sleeping and eating patterns, become anxious, have substance abuse issues or show signs of depression.
Behavioral: Look for changes in behaviors of becoming withdrawn, canceling plans, being late, isolation and increased privacy about personal life.
This is not a comprehensive list and someone struggling does not have to be experiencing all these symptoms to require help.
2. Make time for them
Survivors may be more reluctant to initiate plans and would appreciate a friend taking the first step to connect. Creating time in your day for someone you suspect is suffering will generate trust and create a safe space for sharing.
3. Start a conversation
Once trust is established, you can initiate the conversation with the person. It’s important to not push the subject and let it come naturally. You can assure the person you will be discreet and that you are concerned for their well-being. Try starting the conversation off with “I’m worried about you because…”
4. Listen without judgement
Be an active listener by asking clarifying questions and not providing advice. The person will tell you what they need if you give them the space to talk.
5. Validate survivors
Be sure to validate survivors in whatever they are feeling. You can say “I believe you” and “This is not your fault.” All situations of domestic violence are complex and elicit a variety of emotions. Support them through feelings of anger, hope, fear, despair or even love.
6. Offer support
Once the conversation has ended, you can find ways to support the survivor. This can include locating and providing resources or creating a safety plan. It’s important to respect the choices of the survivor and to not overstep. Understand that only the survivor can make their choice and that your only job is to support them through that decision.
7. Take care of yourself
It can be draining to actively listen to someone experiencing hardships so remember to listen to yourself, too. Take time to exercise, get fresh air or anything to recharge.
Glaser likes to remind everyone that domestic violence is complicated and someone might not be ready to leave. “Leaving can often be most dangerous,” says Glaser. “You can help support them by educating yourself on learning the signs of domestic violence and creating a safety plan.”
If you suspect someone is struggling and requires immediate assistance, call the hotline at 414-219-5555.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.