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Give them encouragement and space to talk, but also be direct about your concerns. You may want to start with general questions like: How's it going with your partner? How are things at home? What does he/she do when he's stressed or angry?
Ask about violence directly
At some point, you need to ask direct questions to find out about what is really happening. Many victims will not offer this information unless you ask directly; they may think you don’t want to know. Asking direct questions may help them to feel like they can tell you what’s really going on. Ask questions like: Has she/he ever shouted at you or pushed you or hit you? That's a nasty mark/bruise/injury. Has someone hurt you?
Remember that words like 'victim' or 'abuse' may not describe how they see things. Offer a chance to talk some more and acknowledge their strength in coping with what they’re experiencing: “It's not surprising you've been stressed - that sounds really intimidating/frightening. It's impressive that you're coping with that sort of pressure. How are you managing to keep it all together?”
State that violence and abuse is not OK
It's important that you are clear and consistent with this message - it might be the first time that the person has heard it. Often people can feel disloyal to their partner and may want to make excuses for their behaviour. It's important they hear things like: “It's not your fault. There's no excuse for that sort of behaviour. You are entitled to be safe.”
Check for current safety
If the person's immediate safety seems uncertain, encourage them to make urgent phone contact with a specialist domestic abuse service –Shine’s Helpline can help. But again, if anyone is in immediate danger, call the Police on 111. “Are you afraid he might kill you, or have you ever felt like that? How safe do you feel right now? Are you okay to go home?”
Offer contact with Shine’s free national Helpline (0508-744-633), or another specialist domestic violence service
“I'm concerned about you/your safety. I'd really like to see you get some more support - this is a very tough situation. There are some really excellent help services set up to help in just this sort of situation – do you want me to give you the number of Shine’s confidential Helpline ?”
Offer a Safer Homes booklet for learning about domestic violence, options and help available
Offer to stay in touch, or to talk about it another time
Sometimes victims choose to deny a problem, but once you’ve asked some questions, they may consider discussing it later with you or someone else. Either way it’s helpful for them to hear: “My door's always open. You might like to talk to me about it another time - that's OK.”
Don’t push; leaving is the most dangerous time for victims
The most dangerous time for victims of abuse is just before, during, and after leaving a violent partner. Keeping quiet may be less dangerous, at least in the short term. NZ research shows that victims feel best served and supported by specialist domestic abuse organisations like Shine, so make sure you give them Shine’s Helpline number. You may not be able to solve the problem for them but with support, information and time, they may regain safety and control in their life.
Concern for the safety of a child
If you have concerns about a child's safety, you should ring the Ministry for Children (Oranga Tamariki) on 0508-326-459. This line is answered 24/7. You can ring anonymously to talk through a situation before deciding whether to make a formal report. Even this can be scary for some people, so another place to start is to ring Shine's Helpline for advice.
Talking to someone who is using abusive behaviour
If you are going to talk to someone who is using violent or abusive behaviour, it is important to stress that your concern stems from personal observations, or from what someone told you, NOT from what their partner/the victim told you, as this will increase their danger. Again, telling that person that your concern stems from what their partner has told you will severely compromise the victim's safety. It's best, if you can, to let the victim know that you want to speak to her/his partner and discuss with him/her what would be useful and safe for you to say. If you or someone you know and trust has influence with that person, it is important to talk to them, provided it seems safe to do so. If the person using abusive behaviour is male, you might also want to encourage him to enrol in a stopping violence programme like Shine’s No Excuses programme. Male family members and friends have a responsibility to speak with that man and protect those being abused. This is especially true in situations where men hold more status than women.
In Auckland there is a similar programme available for women called IRATE run by Inner City's Womens Group. Click here to find out more.
You can always ring Shine’s free, national Helpline, between 9am and 11pm, 7 days a week, at 0508-744-633, to talk through your situation and how you can best help someone you know or suspect to be experiencing domestic abuse.
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