What would you do if you saw domestic violence?

As part of Cosc's #WhatWouldYouDo campaign, we look at how you can approach the situation and the help available

Over two-thirds of people in Ireland believe that domestic violence is a common problem, and over 300,000 men and women have suffered abuse at the hands of a partner at some point in their lives.

However, given that domestic violence can take many forms and show itself in ways that can be difficult to spot, many people are unsure how to approach the subject with someone if they are concerned for them.

That is not to say that people don’t want to help, though. In a recent survey, 94% of people said that they would assist a friend involved in a domestic violence situation, while 65% said they would help a stranger who was suffering domestic abuse.

Knowing how to recognise the signs is the first step, but intervening in a way that is safe both for you and for the person being abused is a problem for many who feel that they don’t know where to go, or how to even open a discussion on the topic.

How to start

Often the best way to achieve this with a friend or someone close to you is to simply express your concern. Doing so in a non-judgmental way, by saying that you’re worried and are there to help if they ever need to talk, will help them to feel comfortable speaking to you and opening up about what’s happening.

Also let them know that what they say to you will remain confidential, something which can often be difficult to do if you are very close to the person. Breaking that trust is a step that can leave the person feeling even more isolated and alone.

If they do choose to speak to you about it, you can assure them that the violence is not their fault; letting someone know that they are not to blame can be a comfort and vital support at a very difficult stage.

Resources

If they do confide in you, it is important to provide the person with the right information and direct them toward the resources that may be of use. If it is an emergency, they should call 112 or 999, while there are also a number of helplines that will be able to guide the person through the next steps to take.

Depending on the type of abuse that is taking place, there are a number of helplines available:

  • The National Sexual Violence Helpline, for both men and women: 1800 77 88 88
  • The National Domestic Violence Helpline for women: 1800 341 900
  • Amen, a helpline for men experiencing domestic violence: 046-9023718
  • The Elder Abuse Helpline: 1850 24 1850

However, remember that those suffering from abuse may feel unsafe searching for this information themselves, or feel that they are being monitored if they use the internet or the phone in their home. Providing them with the right support services can be crucial, as they may not be able to access it themselves.

In giving them this information, you are helping them form their safety plan, a crucial step in escaping the cycle of power and control that abuse creates. Leaving a relationship is the most dangerous time for a victim, and they are best placed to assess the danger to themselves. As such, you should avoid giving someone advice or pressuring them to leave the relationship. Remember that by validating a victim’s choices and encouraging them to make their own decisions, you are helping them in the best way possible.

What if I don’t know the person?

If you suspect that there may be abuse taking place between two people who are strangers to you and you feel it’s safe to intervene, then there are a number of different steps to follow - the three ‘D’s.

Distract

Creating a distraction is a non-confrontational way to intervene, and it can help keep a dangerous situation from escalating. This could include something as simple as stepping in to ask directions, or asking the time. You can try distracting either the person about to commit violence, or the potential victim.

Delegate

If you don’t feel comfortable intervening yourself, but you feel the situation doesn’t need Garda intervention, then reaching out to a friend of either the victim or the abuser can be the best step.

Friends or people who know those involved may be in a better position to speak with them or take on the role of a trusted confidant, giving them a better opportunity to perform a sustained intervention. That can be as simple as asking someone in that position to check in on the situation when they can, be it now or later. 

Direct

Taking a direct approach involves intervening with either the potential victim or the abuser. If you have judged it to be safe to take this approach, then the victim may be the best person to interact with. 

Again, don’t give advice or judge, simply take the opportunity to state that you are concerned, ask if anything is wrong, and make clear to the victim that what has happened is not their fault

This approach has its own difficulties; even if you decide to approach the abuser, they may attack you and they might end up taking it out on their partner later. By taking a subtle tact, you can make clear that you are observing the situation and keeping an eye on things, which may help to diffuse the situation. 

Before you get involved, ask yourself if it’s safe and legal to intervene.  If the situation is already violent or looks like its escalating quickly, don’t directly intervene. Call the Gardaí on 999. The only effective bystander intervention is a nonviolent one.  If you try to “rescue” a victim or fight off an abuser, you’ll not only be endangering yourself, but the abuser might take out their anger on the victim later.  The victim could end up more isolated and less likely to seek help later on.

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A message from Cosc, supported by Newstalk 106-108fm. For further information visit whatwouldyoudo.ie