Shelter Awareness  

Helping a friend

Recent stats confirm that family violence is an issue of concern, even here in our lovely valley. Given this fact, there is the very real likelihood that it may impact each of us; if not personally, then by affecting someone we care about or with whom we come in contact.

The questions arise, “How do you respond to the issue of family violence?” and “What do you do when someone is being treated abusively?” The following suggestions may be helpful in responding effectively.

If you witness or hear what appears to be a physical assault in progress, call the police immediately. They have the right and the power to intervene in what is a criminal matter.

Since verbal and emotional abuse almost always precede or accompany physical assaults it is much more likely that you will witness incidents of verbal or emotional abuse than of physical violence. Verbal/emotional abuse might include yelling, swearing at, belittling, intimidating, name-calling, put-downs, blaming, making disparaging remarks or threats.

If you witness or hear incidents of verbal or emotional abuse, don’t behave in a manner that suggests you support or condone violent or abusive behaviours. It may be appropriate to speak up to intervene, but only if you can do so without putting yourself or the person experiencing the abuse, at risk. If, what you are hearing or seeing indicates that there is imminent risk to someone, it may be appropriate to call police for assistance.

If you can do so safely, let someone who is behaving abusively know that you see or hear what is happening and you don’t like it or think that it is funny – or okay. If you have a safe opportunity to speak to the person who was behaving abusively, confront them in a respectful manner, pointing out that their behaviour is unacceptable, that it is likely to damage or destroy their relationship and that there is help available if they are having a difficult time behaving respectfully within their relationship. Provide information about resources in the community that could help. Encourage them to be the best person they can be in the relationship.

If you have an opportunity to speak to the person who experienced the abuse, let them know that you recognize what was happening as being abusive, that they don’t deserve to be treated abusively and that there is help available.

Similarly, if you suspect that someone is being abused, try to find a safe opportunity to bring up the issue directly. Even though it may be difficult, let them know that you are concerned and that if they are experiencing abuse it is okay to talk with you about it or to reach out for other help.

When speaking to a woman who discloses that she is being abused, believe her. Listen as non-judgementally and supportively as possible – don’t minimize, justify, blame or give unsolicited advice. Talking about abuse is difficult and it has probably taken courage for her to share information. While this information may be upsetting to you, it is important to respond as calmly and objectively as possible. If your emotional response is excessive, she may feel less comfortable in sharing. Being subjected to abuse and violence can be very damaging to self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence. Be affirming of her worth as a person, her competency, and her ability to make good decisions. Let her know that she does not deserve to be treated abusively, that the abuse is not her fault, that there is nothing she can do to control her partners’ abusive behaviours– only he can do that. You can let her know that without intervention the abuse almost always gets worse even though he may make excuses or express remorse and promise it won’t happen again. Let her know that her first responsibility must be to ensure her and her children’s safety and that she is not responsible for the abusive partner or his choices. Let her know that there is help available. Offer information about community resources or suggest that she call a transition house or women’s shelter for support or information, and that she can seek support without having to leave the relationship.

Don’t Suggest or Imply:

  • That it’s her fault
  • That there is something she can do to control or change her partner’s behaviours
  • That she should stay – because of the children, because she married him, because of the expectations of her family, friends or religion …..
  • That she should leave – if she is not ready to do so.

It is important to remember that you cannot “save” or “rescue” someone from an abusive relationship and that she has a right to make her own decisions – the decision to do nothing is still a decision. You can be available to provide emotional and practical support as she processes her feelings and thoughts, gathers information, makes decisions, accesses resources, plans for her own and her children’s safety, and moves forward with her life.

If there are children involved, even if the abuse is not directed at them, they can be deeply impacted by seeing or hearing incidents of verbal, emotional or physical abuse directed at a parent or sibling. If you know that children are being exposed to incidents of violence or abuse, talk with the non-abusive parent about how this might affect the children now and in the future. Witnessing violence and abuse is recognized as putting children at risk and it is appropriate for you or the non-abusive parent to call a social worker at the Ministry of Child and Family Development for assistance or direction. While a common fear is that a social worker will come and take the children, this is never their first choice. Their responsibility is to assess situations and ensure that children are safe. Most often they will offer support and will try to encourage choices that will ensure the children’s safety while remaining in the care of a non-abusive parent.

Each of us can make a difference, perhaps for one woman, one child, one family, if we choose to do what we can to respond to the issue of family violence and abuse. Abuse is never okay….asking for help is. Call 250 763-1040 if you need help or know of someone who does.

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About the Author

April, 2011 marks the 31st anniversary of the day the Kelowna Women’s Shelter opened its’ doors to offer counselling, support and a safe residence for women and children whose lives have been impacted by family violence, abuse and significant crisis. The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is a place of refuge for women who are not safe in their own homes, women who have been beaten, traumatized, threatened, and have fled in terror from a partner. Our staff and volunteers provide services to women and children in the area boundaried by Oyama to the North and Peachland to the South. For more information visit kelownawomensshelter.ca or call 250-763-1040

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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