Co-Founder & Executive Director of HEART Women & Girls
Domestic violence is not limited to only one racial, ethnic, religious or socioeconomic group. 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and over 1.3 million are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner. This piece explores our collective responsibility in building safer communities- communities in which our victims are not blamed, in which they feel safe and supported, and most importantly, empowered not just to help themselves, but to be a resource for each other.
Despite the above statistics, most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police. The reasons that survivors do not leave abusive situations or do not seek legal or social services are quite complex. For example, women may stay in abusive marriages because of financial dependency, shame, love (or fear) for their partner, or fear of being blamed or losing their children.
Most likely, there are survivors in our immediate circles.. As bystanders, we should be doing our part to create spaces for survivors where they feel safe, and empowered to do what they need to take care of themselves and their families well before the professional, legal and social services enter the equation. You don’t have to be a crisis counselor, police officer or lawyer to work toward this goal. Below are some steps we all can start to take to support survivors. .
Practice reflective listening. Reflective listening involves being present when the other person is talking to you, not interrupting them, and then repeating what they said to you, so they know you heard and understood them.
Affirm and validate. If someone reaches out to you about an abusive situation, the worst thing you can do is not believe them. Simple statements such as “it is normal that you feel scared” or “you’re doing the responsible thing by speaking with someone, and know you are not alone” are incredibly important for a survivor to hear and internalize as she works through her situation.
Free yourself of blaming and shaming the survivor. Often, people are quick to pass judgment on the survivor who hasn’t left an abusive situation, which further alienates the survivor.
Maintain their privacy. Survivors are often hesitant to reach out to others because they don’t trust that their privacy will be maintained. Privacy is crucial to maintain to avoid shaming and re-traumatizing the survivor as well as ensuring their physical safety from further harm.
Nadiah Mohajir is co-founder & executive director of HEART Women & Girls, a nonprofit that seeks to promote sexual and reproductive health in faith-based communities. She is a long-term South side Chicagoan and lives with her three children and husband.
YWCA’s Week Without Violence is an annual campaign that takes place nationally and communities across the country to end violence in all of its forms and wherever it occurs. As the largest network of domestic service providers in the United States, YWCA is focusing our efforts on ending domestic violence – NOW. Everyday YWCA addresses the root causes and immediate needs associated with domestic violence. As we mark our 20th annual Week Without Violence, we invite you to join us. To learn more visit www.ywca.org/wwv and join the conversation with #EndDVnow.
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