Nationally, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence and/or stalking. An estimated 43% of Washington State women have a lifetime incidence of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner — this translates to approximately 443,033 women in King County. Advocates who work with survivors of domestic violence estimate that the actual number is significantly higher. The Vulnerable Populations Team in our Adult Services Division works to partner with community agencies, with funding from the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL), to provide supportive services to survivors from prevention to crisis response to long-term stabilization strategies.
Gender-based violence VSHSL strategies support survivors and their communities across the spectrum of needs and experiences. This includes:
- upstream supports through an upcoming prevention pilot
- crisis response with an upcoming coordinated 24-hour domestic violence hotline,
- a countywide collaborative network to support persons with lived experience in the sex trades
- mid-level and long-term supportive services for survivors and their families through mobile flexible advocacy.
Advocates who work with survivors of domestic violence make a tremendous impact in their efforts to help and support survivors, but family and friends often fill the gaps between these services. People experiencing domestic violence are more likely to turn to their family, friends and communities than they are to professionals. To celebrate Domestic Violence Action Month and to support people experiencing domestic violence all year long, our Vulnerable Populations Team shared three ways you can help someone in an abusive relationship.
What is an abusive relationship?
First, before you can support someone in an abusive relationship, it is helpful to know the signs of an abusive relationship. Abuse is a pattern of behavior that one person uses to gain power and control over the other. Behaviors can include: isolation, emotional abuse, monitoring, controlling the finances, physical and sexual assault. The fundamental harm of abuse is a loss of autonomy. Everyone should be free to make their own choices in relationships.
Anyone can help
Supporting someone experiencing domestic violence can seem daunting, but everyone has a role to play to end domestic violence; you don’t have to be an expert to help. Little things can make a real impact in someone’s life.
Having family or friends there and available is what many people have said is what they most needed when in an abusive situation. These three strategies can help you support someone experiencing domestic violence:
Asking “How’s it going?” and really caring about the answer is powerful.
Here are some other questions to ask:
- What is your biggest concern?
- What are you most worried about?
- What do you need or want?
- What do you need from your community?
- How can I help?
- What is life like with [partner’s name]?
- How are the kids doing?
- Is this relationship energizing or draining?
- Do you get to do the things you like to do?
- What happens if you disagree?
- What does arguing look like in your relationship?
Listen to what the person has to say without having your own agenda. Being heard and acknowledged can really help. Remember to try and hear their perspective, not to try to get your point of view across. We know this can be hard, especially when someone you love is experiencing harm. In order to support their own autonomy, remember to pay special attention to what the person thinks about their own priorities and concerns.
Sometimes the most helpful thing you can tell someone is “I believe you and I am here for you.” Here are things to say to people who have experienced harm:
- I am so sorry this is happening to you
- Thank you for sharing this
- I don’t even know what to say right now, but I am so glad you told me
- You don’t deserve this
- Thank you for telling me
- It’s not your fault
- You are not alone
- You get to choose what you do next
Staying connected to the person experiencing domestic violence is one of the most helpful and important things you can do. It can take a long time for things to get better, and it can be difficult to support someone though it all.
When someone is isolated, the abuser has more power and control over their lives. Even if the person does not reach out to you, you can be the one to reach out. Consistently showing up and being a life line for your loved one can take power away from the abuser.
While you are supporting others, make sure to take care of yourself too.
The above strategies, Ask a question, Listen up and Stay Connected, are courtesy of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. For more information on how to support someone experiencing abuse read their Friends and Family Guide: How to help someone in an abusive relationship.
Services in King County
The King County Domestic Violence Program and the King County Sexual Assault Program support agencies that provide services, resources and information for survivors of domestic violence and victims of sexual assault in King County. For a list of agencies that may be able to help visit our website.
You don’t have to be in crisis to get help from an advocate. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline or visit their website for information on resources in your area.