Did you know that domestic violence from an intimate partner causes more illness, disability and deaths than any other risk factor for Australian women aged 25–44?
This distressing reality of life in Australia means that most of us know someone who is, or has, experienced domestic, family or sexual violence in the home.
But here’s a tricky question: would you know how to help a loved one experiencing domestic violence, without making the situation worse?
It’s okay, many of us don’t, mainly because domestic, family and sexual violence have been taboo subjects discussed in hush tones for way too many years.
We at South Coastal Health and Community Services believe empowerment comes from open discussion, which is why we’re providing these useful strategies for anyone helping a loved one experiencing domestic violence.
Domestic violence is not always physical
Before we cover those strategies, let’s address one of the most common misconceptions about domestic violence: domestic violence is a term that covers much more than physical abuse.
Domestic violence also refers to an arsenal of controlling behaviours used to exert emotional, financial, sexual, psychological and physical control.
For example, non-physical domestic violence can include:
- Someone controlling how their partner looks and speaks, what they eat, who they talk to and spend time with, or how they spend their money;
- Threatening self-harm or harm to others if a partner doesn’t do what they want;
- Someone who puts their partner down or calls them names;
- Stalking or tracking their partner’s social media, phone calls, texts, or movements.
I suspect domestic abuse? How can I help?
Tragically, the odds are high that many of us suspect a grandmother, aunty, mum, sister, colleague, cousin or dear friend is experiencing domestic violence behind closed doors.
But unless they are being open about this abuse, the greatest challenge can be how to go about acknowledging the problem directly. Sometimes, simply reaching out and letting them know that you are there for them, no matter what, provides tremendous relief and assurance to someone feeling isolated, vulnerable and alone.
We also acknowledge that while it is primarily women who suffer abuse, men can, too! So while our strategies below refer to ‘her’, they could equally apply to the ‘him’ in your life.
If trust is established and a confidence shared, here’s how you can respectfully support your loved one through such a difficult situation as domestic violence. But please, tread gently and make active listening a priority – nobody should ever feel pushed into doing something they are not yet ready, or willing, to do.
How to offer support
- First and foremost, you want to listen without judgment. Give your loved one time to tell her story and be careful not to leave her feeling it is her fault. It’s important that she knows many women – and some men – experience domestic violence and that she is not alone.
- Acknowledge the courage and trust required to confide about their abuse. Please give them time to talk and don’t push for details that aren’t offered freely.
- Let her know that you understand she is in a difficult, frightening and dangerous situation.
- Gently explain to her that it is a basic human right to live free of threatening and violent behaviour. Nothing the abuser says can justify their behaviour, no matter how they spin it.
- Support her as a friend. Encourage her to express her feelings, even if you don’t agree with them. Give her space to make her own decisions.
- Don’t push her to leave their partner if they are not ready.
- If she has suffered physical injuries, offer to take her to a GP or hospital.
- Offer to help report the assault to the police.
- Be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help to abused women and their children. South Coastal Health and Community Services has resources available for women, children and families following violence https://www.southcoastal.org.au/family-violence/
- If she is ready, offer to accompany her to a lawyer for legal advice.
- Plan some safe strategies for her to leave the relationship.
- Invite your friend to use your address and phone number for information and messages (lawyer, police, medicos, schools etc).
- Offer to hold onto an emergency go bag for if she needs to leave in a hurry.
- And finally, practice self-care. It’s important to look after yourself emotionally and not put yourself in harm’s way. It’s for this reason you should never offer to talk to the abuser about your friend or let yourself be seen by the abuser as a threat to their relationship.
SCHCS is here for you
We provide health and psychological services for women, children and the family. Some specific areas of service are:
- Emotional Health Counselling
- Perinatal Mental Health Counselling
- Family and Domestic Violence Counselling
- Psychology Services
- Women’s Health Services – Female GP’s and Nurses
- Self-Support Groups
- Early Childhood Centre for clients attending appointments
- Aboriginal Health Services including mental health support services, antenatal, child health, primary health and advocacy services.
- Visiting services to SCHCS include:
- Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)
- Carers WA
- East Metropolitan Health Service (Moorditj Djena)
- Perth Children’s Hospital ( Koorliny Moort)
However, in an emergency, or if your or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call the police on 000.
South Coastal Health and Community Services does not offer services to people in immediate crisis.
If it’s not an emergency and you need support, please contact your local services or contact a crisis line below. Trained, compassionate professionals are available to help you plan for your safety, connect to available resources and discuss the options that are available to you. The calls are confidential.
24 hours 7 days a week Telephone Services