How to Talk with Someone Who Is Being Abused
Guidelines for Co-workers
“I think one of my co-workers may be experiencing domestic violence…What should I do?”
You might feel awkward bringing up domestic violence with a co-worker. That’s a natural reaction. And you don’t want to put her on the spot if she’s not ready to talk. But you can let her know that you support her.
If your co-worker has unexplained bruises, or explanations that just don’t add up, if she is distracted, has trouble concentrating, misses work often, or receives repeated, upsetting telephone calls during the day, she may be with an abuser.
Many people hesitate to speak with women who they think are being abused because they don’t quite know what to say, or how to say it. Relax and be yourself and you’ll automatically communicate what’s important: your concern.
You may hesitate to get involved because you see domestic violence as a personal matter. But many women find it hard to ask for help, especially when they have reached out for help in the past and been blamed for his violence instead. Most women who are abused who are offered help deeply appreciate it, even if they don’t say so. For many women, it takes a lot of time, planning, help, support and courage to escape an abuser. In the meantime, it is important for women to know that help is available from people who care about the situation. Knowing that people are out there offering support makes it much easier for women to explore their options.
So if you know someone who is being abused, there are many things you can do that will make a real difference.
There are lots of ways you can tell is something is wrong. Perhaps your co-worker often has unexplained injuries. She may appear anxious, upset or depressed. The quality of her work may fluctuate for no apparent reason. She may also be receiving a lot of harassing phone calls or faxes. She may become upset when she gets calls from her husband or boyfriend. Or she might miss work, due to frequent medical problems and fears about leaving children at home alone with the abuser.
How can you lend a hand? (How can you support her?)
· Establish a rapport with her if you don’t already have one, so that she feels comfortable talking with you and not put on the spot.
· Listen, without judging. Often a woman who is abused believes her abuser’s negative messages about herself. She may feel responsible, ashamed, inadequate, and afraid you will judge her.
· Let her know that you care about her. Tell her she is not responsible for his abuse. Explain that physical violence is never acceptable. There’s no excuse for it – not alcohol or drugs, financial pressure, depression, jealousy, or any behavior of hers.
· Make sure she knows she is not alone. Millions of women of every age, race and faith are victimized. Emphasize that when she wants help, it is available. (Call Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Service at (503) 399-7722 or toll free 1-866-399-7722).
· Explain that domestic violence is a crime – as much of a crime as robbery or rape—and that she can seek protection from the police or courts, and help from a domestic violence advocacy program. Give her phone numbers she can call for help, support and referrals.
· If you want to talk with someone yourself to get advice, contact a local domestic violence program. They can help you figure out what is best to do in your situation.
· Many women remain with their abuser, and try to get help for them. Remember that, for many women, separating from an abuser is a process, not an event, and takes time. Realize that often the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is in the process of leaving, or has left the abuser.
· Respect the co-worker’s boundaries and privacy, even if you disagree with the decisions she is making regarding the relationship. A survivor of domestic violence may make numerous attempts to leave the abuser. Be patient and understanding.
· Encourage her to call a domestic violence hotline or the Employee Assistance Program to get help developing a safety plan.
· She may also want to consider telling her doctor or nurse about the violence, asking him or her to document the abuse in her medical records and take photographs of her injuries. Suggest she store them is a safe place, along with a written description of what happened. These records may be helpful to her if she decides to take legal action in the future.
What if she decides to leave?
If she decides to leave her abuser, she may need money, help finding a place to live, a place to store her belongings, or help getting to a shelter. The most important thing you can do is help her think about developing a safety plan, which includes setting aside money and important documents in a safe place and making a plan to increase her safety. Domestic violence advocacy programs can help. Also, make sure she knows about all of the safeguards and assistance that the workplace can offer her, which might include security escorts to her car, priority parking near the building, temporary assignments in other locations, or time off from work.
Regardless of her decisions or actions, respect confidentiality in all your discussion with her.
Based on “Work to End Domestic Violence” Family Violence Prevention Fund