A look at the local news or social media shows another account of a sexual assault, domestic violence, or sexual abuse. Most of us will change the channel or move on to another story.
The vast majority of us don’t think about the issue of physical, domestic, or sexual abuse unless we, or someone we love, are directly impacted. And even then, we want to look away.
But the survivor and their family are not given the luxury of simply looking away.
There will be long-term effects on the victim and their loved ones. Some will be obvious to everyone, and some will be subtle but just as heart-breaking.
Many men will not understand why their physical presence that once was a source of comfort to the victim is now a trigger for additional harm.
As men, what do we do to support the survivors of abuse?
A look at and from two women caused me to reassess my approach to being physically present with abuse survivors and prompted these nine actions instead.
Let me give you some background.
A look at a Young Neighbor.
When I was fourteen years old, I answered a knock at our front door and encountered a battered woman; I still remember how she looked. She was a petite young girl. She was battered, bruised, and bloodied.
Her face looked like she had been struck repeatedly with a heavy object. I had never seen such violence to anyone, much less a woman. I was speechless.
I remember how she looked at me. She seemed fearful and confused, unwilling to come in and unwilling to retreat. I brought my mother to the door; she spoke to the young girl and contacted the police.
I wanted to help her but didn’t know what to do. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t understand the sexual component of the assault. But on that day, my empathy for the female survivors of physical, sexual, and domestic abuse began.
As the years passed, I encountered more abuse survivors, and I began to give financially to a local battered women’s shelter.
A look at the residents of a Women’s Shelter.
Several years later, I helped deliver food to a woman’s shelter with a friend. The volunteers were warm, friendly, and grateful for the food.
But every woman resident looked at me with the same look I had received so many years earlier. It was the look of fear, confusion, and mistrust.
One worker explained that when some residents looked at me, they saw their abuser’s face. My physical presence as a man was upsetting to the people I wanted to help. A look at me caused harm to them.
It was heart-breaking. Maybe you have unknowingly encountered the same issue. You want to help, but everything you’ve tried appears to do more harm than good.
A look at 9 ways You can make a difference for Female victims of physical, sexual, and domestic abuse.
Over time, I have learned nine simple but powerful ways that other men and I can make a difference for female victims of physical, sexual, and domestic abuse.
1. Financial help. We can contribute to those most suited to assist the victim. Many men hold an economic advantage over women. For a woman to leave a man who is abusing her means she also abandons his financial resources. No matter how much she may want to go, her financial limitations may make this impossible. This is why financial giving to women’s shelters is necessary.
“Economic self-sufficiency is frequently the difference between violence and safety for many victims,” states the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
2. Behavior. We can refuse to strike a woman under any circumstance or excuse the behavior of others who do. We can extend courtesy and common decency to every woman we meet.
3. Belief. We can start by believing the victim. In the absence of credible evidence to the contrary, we can trust a woman’s version of the events as much as we would trust any friend. Civil authorities will investigate and verify the facts.
4. Boundaries. We must respect their wishes about emotional and physical contact. It does not matter that we were not the ones to harm them. We must create a safe space for them to heal.
Here are the words of a survivor from The Mighty who is uncomfortable with uninvited contact. “When you continue to touch me, despite my asking you not to, it doesn’t matter how “harmless” it is. I have to fight with everything I have to resist a panic attack. I’m very aware you’re not hurting me, but you need to understand that there was a time when I told someone to stop, and they didn’t. There was a time when I begged someone to get their hands off of me, and they didn’t. I told them no and they still thought they had the right.”
Not hugging a survivor may be the greatest act of sacrificial love you can give.
5. Deception. We can forcefully refute the lie that a woman was asking for the assault to happen. Or that the victim was at fault because they were in the wrong place or should have known better.
Consider these powerful words from Elisabeth Bahadori. “For those of you who think women are “asking for it,” you’re right. We are asking for something. We are begging, pleading, demanding a world in which we feel safe and respected. We’re asking to be treated like decent human beings. We’re asking for an end to rape and rape culture. When will you finally listen?”
6. Strength. We can praise their power in speaking up when many others are silent. We can add our voices to theirs in calling for change.
7. Timetable for healing. We need to understand that no woman should have to move on. We should correct anyone who tells a survivor to “just get over it.” Healing is a process. Too often, discussions of forgiveness and reconciliation are premature and can lead to additional harm.
8. No means no. We can recognize that no always means no. No matter when it occurs. No matter what has happened in the past. No matter the current circumstances. No means no.
9. Shame. As men, we can shame the abuser. We can refuse to allow anyone to shame the person the victim. We can affirm the value and worth of the survivor.
Call to action
As men, can we look at victims and survivors differently? Not as a problem to be solved, but as a person to be heard, believed, valued, and defended? I hope you will join me in changing the conversation, one relationship at a time.
Which of these nine suggestions could you start today?