7 Ways To Support A Person Going Through Gender-Based Violence

The fight against GBV is no longer an individual or women’s fight but a fight for every person. Each one of us has a responsibility to take action in eradicating the gender and social norms that promote violence against women.

Edith Mecha

This week marks the end of the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, an international campaign, that calls for the elimination of gender-based violence (GBV). 

The campaign began on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and will end on Thursday, 10 December, during Human Rights Day. The theme for this year’s campaign was “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”

Source: UN Women

Gender based violence is deeply rooted in gender inequalities and societal norms. These inequalities in gender increase the risk of acts of violence by men against women. For instance, traditional beliefs that men have a right to control women make women and girls vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual violence by men. They also hinder the ability of those affected to remove themselves from abusive situations or seek support.

For a long time, interventions have focused on promoting gender equality as a major part of violence prevention. Some of the interventions include confronting the entrenched beliefs and cultural norms from which gender inequalities develop, and efforts to engage all sectors of society in redressing these inequalities, both of which are thought to reduce gender-based violence. Also, other interventions include engaging men and boys as key change agents.

According to UN Women and World Health Organization, an estimated 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Globally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner. Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner. 200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting.

The issue of gender-based violence has enormous consequences to survivors, families, and the society at large. For instance, families where abuse is a common occurrence cannot live a “normal” or healthy life. The children who see this behaviour grow up thinking it is normal and this pattern of abuse continues generation after generation. Further, a society or nation cannot be called healthy or progressive, if half of its population is suffering. Violence against women negatively affects women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health. It also presents huge social and economic costs to countries.

Prevention strategies to eliminate violence against women

The fight against GBV is no longer an individual or women’s fight but a fight for every person. Each one of us has a responsibility to take action in eradicating the gender and social norms that promote violence against women.

It is important for everyone to know ways to support someone if they see violence happening or if they confide in you about an experience of gender-based violence.

Here are some ways you can support a friend or family member experiencing GBV

1. Start by listening to them patiently without judgment

Listen to their story without being judgmental, interrupting, or forcing your own opinions on them. If you actively listen there is a high chance of the person telling you exactly what they need. But if you push your decision on them it might backfire and there is a risk of them shutting and stopping from speaking to you openly in the future. Instead, ask them how you can help.

2. Believe them

In most gender-based violence cases, it is the survivor who sees the dark side of the perpetrator. Many times, others are shocked that a person they know as charming and respectful could be violent. This makes many survivors feel that no one would believe them if they shared their story. That is why it is important to believe the survivor and to affirm to them that you believe them. A survivor having even one person who believes their story brings a sense of hope and relief.

3. Validate the survivor’s feelings

Sometimes a survivor may express conflicting feelings about the perpetrator and their situation. Feelings around guilt and anger, hope and shame, and love and fear. In such instances, it is important to validate the survivor’s feelings and inform them that having such feelings is normal.

Here are 10 suggested responses by Domestic Shelters that you can give to validate and support survivors:

  • “This is not your fault.”
  • “You’re not alone. I’m here for you. Thank you for telling me.”
  • “I’m sorry he or she did this to you.”
  • “I believe you.”
  • “Nothing you did contributed to this. Abuse is a choice your partner made.”
  • “No one has the right to hurt you, no matter how angry they are.”
  • “You aren’t being dramatic. You have every right to feel what you feel.”
  • “Your emotions are valid.”
  • “There’s a way out of this. I can help you find resources.”
  • “You are worthy and deserving of a safe and healthy life.”

4. Be patient and keep constant communication.

You can share resources on credible helplines and hotlines, violence support organizations, online counselling, safe spaces, legal and medical support, and safety tips. But do not be pushy.

5. Encourage them to build a support network of trusted family and friends.

A support network will help them to get the support and protection they might need.

6. Help them make a safety plan.

A safety plan will keep them and any children, physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe. The exercise of having a ready plan can help them visualize which steps are needed as well as prepare psychologically to do so. Therefore, it is important to help the survivor think through each step of the safety plan, consider the risks and advantages of each option, and ways to minimize the risks. This could also include coining a word, phrase or signal that they could use to alert you and other trusted friends that they need help. Safety planning is critical in the fight against violence.

7. Don’t give up on them

Walk patiently with them and offer support where you can till they make their own resolution which they are comfortable with. This is the only way a decision becomes sustainable and feels right.

What Not to Do

There is no perfect way to help a survivor of gender based violence, but you might have to be careful not to do something that may worsen the situation. Here are some “don’ts” to avoid:

Don’t…

  • Pressure the victim to take the action you suggest.
  • Blame the victim.
  • Bash the abuser. Focus on the behavior, not the personality.
  • Underestimate the potential danger for the victim and yourself.
  • Promise any help that you can’t follow through with.
  • Give conditional support.
  • Do anything that might provoke the abuser.
  • Give up. If they are not willing to open up at first, be patient.
  • Do anything to make it more difficult for the victim.

However, in an actively violent situation, calling the police or other protection services is not the problem but part of the solution. Check out resources here.

While the 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence is coming to an end the task remains. The misfortune of going through GBV is a demoralizing and unhealthy characteristic of the human lifestyle. It is a menace that must be eradicated. So, the body of work on eliminating all forms of GBV still remains for us to keep chopping off. The best festive season gift that should come with the imminent end of the pandemic is to enhance our doubled efforts to eliminate GBV.

If you or someone you know is experiencing gender-based violence, you can find international resources for support here.

About The Author

Edith Mecha

Edith is a creative writer, social science researcher, speaker and a civic change advocate.

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