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Whether it’s your best friend, your sibling, a coworker or a complete stranger who tells their story on the internet, hearing that someone is enduring or has endured domestic violence is never easy. But trust that for a survivor to break his or her silence and disclose abuse is even tougher.
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Even though domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic—millions of individuals have or are experiencing abuse from an intimate partner—there are still cultural stigmas and misnomers that stand in the way of survivors being heard, believed or helped.
Survivors Face Judgment
Status discrimination, for one, means that victims of domestic violence are sometimes stereotyped as being of a certain class, or from a certain income or education level. That old, “That sort of thing can’t happen here,to people like us,” excuse is a person’s way of thinking they’re protected from domestic violence when in fact abusers come from all walks of life, all income levels, all geographical areas, all types of professions, all sorts of family backgrounds.
The word victim itself can trap someone in a role of being passive, helpless or weak. Many people, understandably, don’t want to label themselves as victims or be called victims. This is how the term “survivor” came to be the preferred nomenclature to describe someone who has endured abuse.
And then there is that belief by some, carried over from decades past, that domestic violence is a domestic issue, one that should be handled by a couple, privately, in their home. This idea lays some of the blame for domestic violence on the survivor, as though he or she has somehow played a part in the abuse occurring. Even the police are sometimes guilty of believing this outdated idea.
Between these stigmas and the widespread victim-shaming that occurs on a regular basis, it’s no wonder survivors have a hard time stepping forward and speaking out when they experience abuse.
That’s why it’s up to those outside the cycle of abuse—the support persons, the advocates, the concerned friends and family members—to validate and believe survivors when we hear about abuse.
Validate with Your Word
When someone comes forward with a confession of abuse, or even lightly dances around the topic, perhaps afraid to fully admit what’s happening, but still scared enough that it needs to be hinted at, it’s vital to listen. You could be that person’s only trusted lifeline.
Below, 10 responses you can give that show you believe and support them. Sometimes, it’s important to say them all:
- "This is not your fault."
- “You’re not alone. I’m here for you. Thank you for telling me.”
- “I’m so sorry he or she did this to you.”
- “I believe you.”
- “Nothing you did contributed to this. Abuse is a choice your partner made.”
- “No one has the right to hurt you, no matter how angry they are.”
- “You aren’t being dramatic. You have every right to feel what you feel.”
- “Your emotions are valid.”
- “There’s a way out of this. I can help you find resources.”
- “You are worthy and deserving of a safe and healthy life.”
After validating someone’s experience, you can refer them to resources to help them better understand the cycle of abuse and to show them there’s a safe way out. Start by encouraging them to talk to a trained domestic violence advocate—you can find one near you here. Or, watch our latest video, “I Know Someone Who Is Being Abused, Now What?” which is full of additional information and ideas about helping someone who is being abused.
Looking for someone to speak with? Enter your location to find phone numbers for domestic violence experts in your area.
Have a question about domestic violence? Type your question below to find answers.