Domestic violence thrives in the shadows of secrecy, making it difficult to talk to victims who may try to hide the abuse out of shame or fear. But experts in El Paso County and the Colorado Springs area say there are ways to approach the conversation if you suspect someone you love is being abused.
They recommend empowering victims to have control over their own lives — not degrading them for not leaving.
• Let victims know they’re not alone.
Because victims are often so secretive about their abuse, 30-year domestic violence educator and victims rights champion Jean McAllister says it’s important to create an environment where victims can feel safe sharing their story.
Say: “We love you, we care about you, we’re worried about your safety, and we’re hoping you’re talking to someone who can help you assess how safe you are.”
You can also connect them to programs for battered women, like TESSA, and offer to go with them to their first appointment, McAllister said.
• Let victims share their story.
TESSA advocate Courtney Sutton recommends letting victims describe their own experiences and fears, and explain why they may feel they’re unable to leave the relationship. Sometimes victims aren’t ready to accept how dangerous their situation is until they admit it to themselves.
Ask: “That sounds really scary, how did you feel?” or “Do you think he can kill you?”
• Be supportive even if you disagree.
Victims stay in abusive relationships for all kinds of reasons — they love the person; they don’t want to leave their children alone in the home; they don’t have financial means to support themselves or their families; they fear retaliation. Whatever their reason, it can be frustrating to those trying to support them, but McAllister says it’s important to “provide support in a way that victims can safely accept it, because sometimes what you think someone needs is not what they need.”
Ask: “What would help you feel safer? What would help you feel less afraid?”
“You can always say — I’m scared that you’re going back, I wish you weren’t going back because I’m scared you’re going to be hurt again, but I know you need to make the decision and I’m not going to bail on you,” McAllister said. “Always leave the door open, because victims need people to reach out to and sometimes when they’re really frightened they will.”
Contact the writer at 719-636-0362 or find her on Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin.