Editor's Note: This is the third article in a series of three during October, Domestic Violence Awareness month.
It is possible that a friend, family member, classmate, colleague, doctor, or patient of yours may be involved in an abusive relationship. If he or she confides in you, what is the best way to respond?
To help us better understand, Julia Hochstadt, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, explained “spontaneous disclosure.” A victim may disclose information about his or her situation at any time, anywhere, under any circumstances. It is important to be prepared to respond in a productive way.
Hochstadt stresses that the most important thing to do when a domestic violence survivor confides in you, is to listen without judgment and believe what he or she says. “There is low to no risk in believing what they say to us, but the risk of conveying disbelief can shut someone up and influence whether they talk about this again,” she explained.
Hochstadt outlined some appropriate phrases to use when being confided in:
“I’m so sorry this is happening.”
“What you’re talking about sounds really scary, I’m so glad you’re telling me this.”
“I believe you.”
“You didn’t deserve this.”
“Help is out there, if you want help I am here to offer it to you, but I’m not going to impose it on you.”
Hochstadt also laid out some reactions to avoid. It is important to be aware of non-verbal communication (facial expressions, body language) and remain calm and understanding, rather than panicked and uncomfortable. It is also necessary to avoid making judgments. When it comes to domestic violence, remember that leaving may not always be the safest option, so do not pressure a survivor to pack his or her bags and go. Reporting an incident to law enforcement may not be the best option either. If a victim wants help, there are many places to turn
Julia Hochstadt works with primary and secondary survivors and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can fill out the contact form on her website: http://www.therapywithjulia.com/contact. Another local resource is the Center for Hope and Safety, located in Rochelle Park, NJ. They can be reached at 201.498.9247, and they have a 24-hour hotline: 201.944-9600. There is also Alternatives to Domestic Violence, located in Hackensack, NJ. Their number is 201.336.7575. National resources include the National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233 and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 24/7 hotline: 1-800-656-4673. Additionally, each state has a family justice center. What is most important is to help victims know that they are not alone, not at fault and there is help.