On Sunday, July 24, the dismembered body of Laura Jean Ackerson was found in a creek in Richmond, Texas. The alleged murderer is the father of her children, Grant Ruffin Hayes. A few days before her death Laura Ackerson reconnected with an ex-boyfriend, James Harrison, via email. In these emails, Ackerson told Harrison about her long custody battles with Hayes and how they “had taken a toll on her and had caused her a great deal of stress.” Harrison said “clearly, the relationship had gone sour” but he did not want to invade her privacy, so he did not press her to talk about it too much.
Harrison’s decision not to ask Ackerson about her custody dispute could be seen as reflective of the coveted American value of the “right to privacy,” but when does concern for an individual supersede that person’s right to privacy? Domestic violence is not a private matter. Ackerson and Harrison had not talked for several years prior to their email discussions. What were Ackerson’s motives for informing Harrison of her personal struggles? Perhaps she was looking for support from anyone who would listen.
This raises an important question: What would you do if someone, however subtly, indicated that s/he needed your support? Active listen. If someone is telling you that s/he is struggling, with anything, give that person your undivided attention. Give them feedback to let them know you are listening. This can be reassuring and it allows them to organize their thoughts and perhaps see them in different ways. When you have an opening, ask a question. This could be as basic as, “Do you feel safe?” If someone is approaching you with a problem, it is safe to assume that s/he trusts you.
How have you talked to someone about a problem that they were going through? Leave us your comments.