October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The campaign began 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a Day of Unity to connect women’s advocates across the country. Starting in the United States, many Canadian women’s organizations have adopted the month as way to spread awareness.
At Women’s Habitat we often hear from friends and loved ones that they feel helpless and are unsure of the best ways to reach out and offer support to a survivor of violence. In recognition of the month, we want to offer our followers a few ways they can be there for their loved ones. Many of these points are from the Pixel Project as part of their 16 for 16 campaign featuring 16 articles about gender based violence.
One of the primary things a survivor of violence needs is for you to just sit and listen sincerely. Listen without judgment and let your friend know that both they and what they are going through is important.
Another primary thing a survivor needs is to be believed. Tell them directly: “I believe you.”
Ask how you can help
Sometimes we may feel like we know what to do in this situation or may want to immediately seek help for the survivor. We must remember that this is not about us and it is more useful to ask “Is there anything you need from me right now?”
Do not try and help or offer suggestions if they do not want any. Remember that survivors of violence have had their boundaries violated and need people to respect them.
Never put pressure on your friend to pursue options or react in a certain way. Give them the tools to decide how to move forward and don’t judge their decisions. Remember survivors stay and go back for various reasons, financial dependence, pressure from family or community, guilt, threats…
Let them know that there is professional help available. Women’s Habitat runs at 24/7 crisis line answered by trained counsellors. Give them the number (416-252-5829) and let them know there are a variety of supports available. Sometimes survivors think leaving and going to a shelter is the only option. At Women’s Habitat we offer counselling, drop in and group programming at our outreach centre. We can also connect her to culturally specific supports and supports closer to her home or work.
Do the research and learn about the issue. Become familiar with the cycle of violence, the signs of an abuser etc. The more you know the more you can support. You can find some great information on our resources page.
Ending the systemic issue of gender based violence means changing our patriarchal culture. It starts with all of us. Take the time to educate your community, family, and friends about how harmful misogynistic language is and how it perpetuates violence. Share the Rape Culture Pyramid, by the 11th Principle project, a great visual to explain how changing the outcomes of gender based violence starts with changing the culture.
Supporting a survivor can be overwhelming, frustrating and heartbreaking. It can feel like there is no hope and no justice. By getting involved you can become part of a bigger movement creating social change. There is power in numbers. Join the Women’s Habitat community and become a change maker!
Take care of yourself
Make sure you get the support you need to be a good ally to your loved one and to keep your own mental and emotional health in check. We cannot fill another’s glass from an empty jug.