May 12th, 2014

How to help victims in abusive relationships

By Kokila Annamalai (Ms), Campaign Coordinator, We Can! End All Violence Against Women

We welcome Pave senior social worker Adisti Jalani’s letter (“Those in abusive relationships should get help early”; Monday).

we can logoResearch and the experience of professionals such as counsellors show that the victims in abusive relationships are more likely to confide in their informal networks first, rather than an authority.

Consequently, the responses of their friends and families often determine whether they seek help. If they encounter blame, judgment or a lack of support, they are more likely to stay in the relationship.

Bystanders have a significant role in preventing the feelings of “helplessness and hopelessness” that Ms Adisti identified as a barrier to leaving abusive relationships. Friends, family members, colleagues and others can help by listening to the victims without judgment, letting them know they have support, discussing their options and asking them what they would like to do. We should not impose decisions on them, but allow them to make their own choices.

We should remove the social pressure on victims to stay in relationships – including marriages – at the expense of their safety. Divorce should not be stigmatised; it can be an important means of self-protection.

In a 2012 Aware survey, only two in 10 people here believe there are no circumstances when women should stay in violent relationships. Many still find reasons to tolerate violence, making it harder for victims to seek help or exit the violent situation.

It is also important for family members and friends to recognise the different forms of abuse. Psychological and verbal violence, as well as financial and social control, can be just as damaging as physical violence, if not worse.

If we know someone abusive, we can express disapproval of their behaviour and let them know there are no excuses for violence. We can discuss their concerns with them and encourage them to seek help too.

Social attitudes must change if victims are to be given the supportive and welcoming environment that they need in order to speak up about abuse.

This letter was first published in the Straits Times on 10 May 2014.

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