How to Be an Ally to a Person Going Through Relationship Violence
By Meaghan Curley, Guest Blogger for YWCA Mohawk Valley
Odds are, you or someone you know is or has been in an abusive relationship. Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV), is a devastating reality for people across the globe, at the heart-wrenching ratio of 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men who will experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime. What was once regarded as a deeply troubling but usually hidden personal problem for families, IPV is so pervasive that many people can probably think of someone they know who was or is in an abusive relationship. (Tragically, IPV is still the number one killer of women world-wide.)
For the people who are currently watching someone they know and love going through an abusive relationship, here are some tips on how to be a good ally:
- Believe them and be vocal about your belief in them. Never underestimate the power of being believed in. More often than not, a person who is in an abusive relationship will be manipulated into believing what they are experiencing isn’t real or “bad.” (This oft-used tactic is called gaslighting. It is a psychological tactic of manipulation on the abusive person’s part to get their victim to question their own sanity, thus fulfilling the abuser’s need to be in control of everything, including their mind.) Be that support system that shows them what they are going through is real, it is traumatic, and they aren’t “making it up.”
- Tell them you love them, often. Don’t let them forget that they are worthy of healthy, fulfilling love. Abusers will try to get their victim to believe that they deserve whatever toxic love they’re getting, until they eventually look to the abuser for any and all sort of affection or validation. Be that support system that reminds them they don’t deserve this “love.” Be the person they can come to when things are bad or worse.
- Don’t tell them what they should do. There are a multitude of reasons people stay in an abusive relationship. It is not your place to judge them for staying, especially given the sickening statistic that shows people who try to leave an abusive relationship are in more danger of being killed than at any other time. With more reactive than proactive laws in place, that are not there to protect those leaving abusive households, and with social programs understaffed and sorely underfunded to even begin to solve such a pervasive problem, it’s not a simple solution of leaving for anyone. As achingly painful as it is to watch a loved one be caught in the clutch of an abusive person, it is not up to you to tell them “you should just leave.” Not only is that a condescending and deeply myopic throw-away term to such an overwhelmingly faceted problem in this country (and around the world), but by “telling” them how to fix their problem, you’re showing three things:
- You’re undermining the severity of the situation.
- You’re taking away their autonomy. (Like it or not, it’s their decision to leave their situation, not yours.)
- You’re essentially blaming them for “staying” instead of placing them blame on the abuser for creating such a horrific situation to begin with.
- Listen (and be patient). Be that person they can come to whether they need to vent or cry or if they decide they need to leave. Brainstorm emergency plans, should they be needed. Listen to their needs, not what you think they should do. Be there for them. And be patient! People will often go back to their abusive partner numerous times before they are able to leave for good. This happens for a number of reasons, and while it can be a heart-breaking thing to watch, you have to remember this is someone you love who is going through something deeply, psychologically tormenting.
- Do your own research. Interpersonal violence is a disease that affects the community. Like all diseases, it’s fatal if left untreated. One of the best ways to combat a disease is to learn about it. Do your research on the red flags of an abusive relationship and on ways you can spot it in others. (This blog is a great place to start, though I would throw out there “No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us” by Rachel Louise Snyder as a second option.)
- Demand more (out of others and yourself). As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons IPV is such a scourge on our society is because there are few laws in place to support a survivor. Up until 1993, it was legal in the United States for a husband to assault his wife. Without activists urging legislators to rectify this wrong, this might still be the law today. It’s crucial for us as a society to demand more out of our politicians to ensure that the rights of the oppressed are upheld instead of taken. (This goes with every social issue you care about but for now this applies to IPV legislation.) Call up your congressperson today and ask what they are doing to aid the fight against IPV. If you are jaded about the efficiency of politicians and law makers, take the grassroots approach. Start in your community: Let it be known you are there for others. If people come to you, listen. Let them talk to you about what’s going on. And this doesn’t apply to just friends and family. Talk to your neighbors. Have those uncomfortable conversations, especially with people who, somehow, clawed their way out of an abusive relationship.
- Donate to local women’s shelters like YWCA Mohawk Valley. Need I say more!
About YWCA Mohawk Valley
YWCA Mohawk Valley is a nonsectarian organization engaged in the mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.
For 24-hour, free and confidential domestic and sexual violence services in Oneida County, call 315.797.7740.
For 24-hour, free and confidential sexual violence and child abuse services in Herkimer County, call 315.866.4120.
To learn more about any of YWCA MV’s services, please click here.
In 2018, YWCA MV provided more than 20,000 instances of service to individuals in Herkimer and Oneida counties via such programs as domestic and sexual violence crisis services, violence prevention education, residential services for homeless women and children, and emergency shelters and transitional housing for individuals escaping violence.