Preventing domestic abuse is a core value of SHALVA. Our outreach programs empower friends and family to know what to say if they think someone is being abused by their intimate partner. We also say that as much as they might want to, they can’t “fix the problem” for the survivor.
During our programs, we tell people that by reaching out, supporting, listening, and offering resources, they’ll be helping empower survivors on their path to healing. Knowing how to help really can break the cycle of abuse.
One of the reasons I find what I do so gratifying is people often tell me after SHALVA events that they learned for the first time that abuse is not just a black eye or broken bone. Abuse can be hiding in plain sight, so we talk about the warning signs of domestic abuse. Participants often say that they missed the red flags and feel better prepared to spot abuse. Even more importantly, they say they came away with practical tools to help someone. Helping people makes the world a better place and I’m so proud to be a part of SHALVA’S Community Education Team.
How Do I Get Started?
One of the topics we cover during our community education is tips for starting a conversation with someone who might be experiencing abuse. Here’s a few:.
- Talk with them privately and in person, if possible. Reassure them that your discussions will remain confidential. Live up to your promise.
- Be kind, express concern, and be specific. You may be the first person who has ever hinted that these things may not be acceptable or healthy. They may not view the behavior as abusive.
- Ask them what they think. Ask them if they are afraid for themselves or their children.
- Listen to, believe, and affirm their feelings. This may be the first time their feelings have ever been acknowledged.
- Emphasize their strengths and intrinsic value as a person. Remind them that they are not alone.
- Offer practical resources: SHALVA, other community agencies, therapists, clergy, and school social workers are all good options.
Here are some statements that may be helpful:
- I believe you.
- I’m glad you told me.
- Thank you for trusting me.
- I’ll keep it in confidence.
- I’m worried about you.
- This must be hard for you.
- I want you to be safe.
- It’s not your fault.
- What do you need?
- I’m here if you ever want to talk.
- There are places and people who can help you, including SHALVA.
What If They Don’t Listen to Me?
“My friend’s being abused by their partner. They won’t listen to me. What do I say to them, so they’ll leave?”
I’ve heard this question countless times. No matter how well intended, we want to avoid telling a domestic abuse survivor what to do, even if seemingly “it’s for their own good.” Why? Because those who abuse strip their partner of their decision-making power. We want to help survivors regain their power and feeling of self-worth to make their own decisions. If we try to tell our friend what to do, that is close to mimicking the abuser’s behavior. Moreover, survivors may be making the safest, best choices under the circumstances, some of which we may not be aware. Keep in mind, they know their abuser and their situation better than anyone else. The best way to help someone is to offer support, listen, and help empower them to make their own choices, on their own timetable.
Avoid harmful sentences that:
- Tell the survivor what to do.
- You should… (e.g., call the police)
- If I were you… (e.g., get a good attorney)
- Why haven’t you… (e.g., gotten an Order of Protection?)
- Blame the survivor.
- Why did you get involved with them?
- What was your part in this?
- You’re smart, why haven’t you left yet?
- Are otherwise inappropriate.
- Have you tried couples counseling? Domestic abuse is about one person having power over another and couples counseling is based on equality, so it won’t work. It can also become a space for someone to further perpetrate emotional abuse.
- Are you a victim of domestic violence? Labels are very powerful. A survivor may not yet view their experience as abuse.
Survivors need to make their own decisions and your job is to respect their choices even if you don’t agree with them. Your consistent, caring support may motivate them and it may not, but it’s the right thing to do. Don’t take it personally. Please browse our website to learn more about how to help a friend or call the office at (773) 583-4673 to schedule a community education program or professional training.
Anita Pildes has been the Community Education and Outreach Coordinator at SHALVA for over five years. She provides educational programs to synagogues and community organizations throughout the Metropolitan Chicago area. In addition, she conducts Jewish cultural awareness trainings for area police departments, teaches the “Domestic Abuse and Religion” sessions for State of Illinois 40-hour Domestic Violence Trainings and provides domestic abuse awareness trainings to medical and other professionals.