Being an effective ally to a survivor of domestic or sexual violence is not an easy task. There are many good steps one can take to help a survivor and some are more obvious than others. We would like to focus on the steps that are sometimes easy to overlook:
- Believe her/him.
- When someone discloses the fact that s/he is a survivor of domestic or sexual violence, s/he is taking a huge risk. Many victims are immediately labeled “false accusers” despite the fact that only a small percentage of accusations prove to be unfounded. False accusation is brought up most often when the perpetrator is in a position of power. Believing a survivor is a crucial first step in empowering her/him.
- Many victims have been in long-term relationships in which their abusers have gained more and more control over them. Therefore the last thing we want to do is to exercise more control over them. Supporting the survivor in gaining control over her/his own situation is vital to overall, long-term recovery.
- This is a short sentence that takes many survivors completely by surprise. Survivors often blame themselves for their abuse, so being told that they did not deserve what happened to them can be incredibly empowering.
- This can be very tempting and it might seem like a good idea, but it can create a major roadblock to communication with the survivor. Survivors often have strong, confusing feelings for their abusers. No one falls in love with an abuser. Victims fall in love with people who later reveal themselves as abusers.
- This can also be tempting, especially for those particularly interested in psychology or counseling. The majority of us are not mental health professionals and we should not pretend that we are. Interpreting, analyzing, or diagnosing people while they talk to us can distract us from doing the one thing that is consistently helpful: listening!
- As with any topic, knowledge is power. Learning more about domestic or sexual violence will better prepare you to talk with survivors about their experiences. Read books, attend classes or seminars, find local resources, or do anything else to expand your knowledge and gain tools to help survivors.
- Self-care can be so easy to forget. If you do not take care of yourself than how can you be expected to take care of someone else? Self-care will be different for each individual but it might include taking a walk, keeping a journal, cooking, or just hanging out with friends. Whatever your self-care is, take time to do it.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of what you should or should not do to help survivors. It is simply a small set of reminders that can help you be an effective ally. Want to learn more? If you are a UNC student and want to be an effective ally, get HAVEN or One Act trained! Or learn volunteer with FVPC! Our Fall training session starts Tuesday September 6 and runs for 6 weeks on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Call 929-3872 for more details.