By Katie Goodale
For The Cordova Times
In a gathering of 100 women, 25 of those women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Most of those women will never report what has happened to them and may not even share their story with their closest friends or family. As friends and families of those who have experienced violence and abuse, although we desperately want to help, we often do not know how. You don’t have to be specially trained to help those that share their story with you, a few key steps will give you a process to help without further hurting those you care about. Anyone can support victims of domestic violence.
The greatest help for domestic violence victims is to be there for them when they are ready to share. It is amazing just how much healing can happen when someone has a listening ear in which to confide. Listening to someone’s story is often heartbreaking work, but vital in the process of supporting victims. Active listening includes listening to understand instead of listening for how to respond. Phrases like “I understand exactly how you feel”, or “that reminds me of…” are not helpful. An active listener keeps their own mouth shut and just listens. You can actively listen with statements such as “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”, “It was not your fault”, or “You are very brave to tell your story”. Remember, that you are listening to understand, not to respond. You are providing a receptacle for the story, not an answer to the problem.
Additionally, as their story comes out, you may be able to help them choose what some of their next steps could be. A victim of domestic violence has most likely had someone telling them what to do, what to think, and where to go for a long time. As a helper, you want to refrain from doing any of those things and support the survivor in whatever decisions he or she makes about their own life. Offering suggestions to optional resources they may access like a local domestic violence advocacy center or shelter can be helpful, but do not tell someone what is best for them! Allow them to make the decisions that are right for them and support them in that decision.
This is one of the hardest aspects of helping, allowing another to make their own decision, even if you don’t believe it to be the right one.
When someone has shared such a devastating part of their story with you, confidentiality is key! It cannot be stated enough that you are now the keeper of another’s story and it is not yours to share. Other people will need to be involved in supporting the victim; as a matter of fact, one of the best ways to help people heal from abuse and keep them safe in the future is to build a network of support around them. Family, friends, advocates, Pastors, knitting buddies, and many other “safe” people can substantially support a survivor. Helping a survivor make connections with others helps them build their support system. But their story is theirs alone to share.
The next thing that can be done is to connect the victim with other resources. Knowing the resources available in your local area is a good practice for anyone. Cordova has two agencies that help victims with resources and programs that can aid in the healing process; Cordova Family Resource Center 907-424-5674 and Native Village of Eyak 907-424-2232. You don’t have to have all the answers but connecting victims with resources that are set up for people who have experienced violence is a great way to help. You can also encourage your pastor and other church leaders to receive training on responding to domestic violence in their congregations. Groups like FOCUS Ministries put on trainings and workshops for pastors and other church people who want to be informed on how to help victims of domestic violence.
We often would like to believe that domestic violence only happens to other people, the reality is that the number of people who experience violence is more common than we can imagine. 1 in 4 women of the women we know, and 1 in 6 men will experience violence at the hand of someone they love. Anyone can lend a listening ear and point someone in the direction of healing. The process isn’t hard, and it is very worthwhile.
Katie Goodale is the director of tribal medical services for the Native Village of Eyak