For families, friends & neighbours
Applying the "3RRR's" of Prevention
Are you a "bystander"? It can be really worrying when someone you care about is being hurt or abused by their partner. This guide will help you to become an "active bystander" in supporting female and male victims of abuse. Throughout the guide we refer to the victim as ‘she’ for simplicity and because the majority of victims are women. However, we encourage supporters of men who are being abused to use this guide and apply the Rotary SAFE Families "3RRR's" of primary prevention of abuse.
Is what you do important?
Your help can make a great difference to someone who is abused. Please note: For the simplicity of this article, the victim is addressed as female, but this information can be applied to a male victim.
Your response to the situation is really important.
If she feels supported and encouraged, she may feel stronger and more able to make decisions.
If she feels judged or criticised, she could be afraid to tell anyone else about the abuse again.
Abuse in relationships is quite common, and is mainly committed by men against women.
Much of this abuse is witnessed by children. Some women are abusive in relationships. Women in lesbian relationships, and men in gay relationships can also be abusive to their partners.
“My best friend really helped me. She never judged me or made me feel like it was my fault. She helped me think about what to do, looked after my kids to give me a break, and was there when I needed her. It can’t have been easy on her. But her support made a big difference.” —Ana
What is abuse?
Every couple has arguments or disagreements. In a respectful and equal relationship, both partners feel free to state their opinions, to make their own decisions, to be themselves, and to say no to sex.
But this is not the case when someone is abusive. In an abusive relationship, one partner tries to dominate the other through physical harm, criticisms, demands, threats, or sexual pressure. For the victim and her children, this behaviour can be very dangerous, frightening, confusing and damaging.
Psychological or emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse. Abuse in a relationship is never acceptable, regardless of the circumstances, and is never the fault of the victim. Abuse is not caused by alcohol, or stress, or by the victim’s behaviour. Abuse happens because the abuser wants to control and manipulate the other person. Physical and sexual assault, threats and stalking are crimes and can be reported to the police.
“My family and friends didn’t think it was ‘that bad’ because he only physically hit me once. But the put-downs and manipulation were so much worse, the way he controlled my life. I really wish my family could have understood how horrible it was.” —Kate
How can I recognise abuse?
You might be unsure if what your friend or relative is experiencing is ‘abuse’. Maybe you just have some sense that something is ‘wrong’ in her relationship. Sometimes there may be signs that indicate that there is abuse. But often there will be nothing obvious.
Signs that someone is being abused;
Why doesn’t she just leave?
It can be hard to understand why someone would stay in a relationship if she is being treated so badly. Leaving may appear to be a simple solution. You might think that the abuse is partly her fault because she puts up with it, or that she is weak or stupid if she stays.
It is hard to imagine what it is like to be abused when you are not in the situation yourself. From the outside, it may seem easier to leave than it actually is. It can be very difficult to leave an abusive partner. This is an important thing for friends and family to understand.
Reasons why it may be so hard to leave:
It is very important that you do not make her feel that there is something wrong with her because she hasn’t left. This will only reinforce her low confidence and feelings of guilt and self-blame.
Leaving an abusive partner may sometimes be quite dangerous. The abuse may continue or increase after she leaves. Help her to weigh up her feelings, to decide what she can do, and to consider her safety whether she decides to stay or to leave. She might want to contact a service to talk about how to protect herself.
"When I told her how he abused me, my friend said ‘but you let him do it’ like it was my fault.
That made me feel worse. She didn’t know how much pressure he put on me to go back, how he said he loved me and would kill himself rather than live without me and the children. He made me feel so guilty. I thought how important it was for the children to have a father. It was all a way of manipulating me to come back.
My friend stopped talking to me after I went back to him, she said I was stupid.
I was really upset because she was my only close friend in Australia and I really needed someone to talk to, and help me to see that the way he treated me was wrong.” —Nicola
Should I get involved?
Many people worry that they will be ‘interfering’ if they get involved, or that it is a ‘private matter’. But it is equally worrying if someone is being abused and you say nothing. Your support can make a difference. You might risk some embarrassment if you approach her and she rejects your support or tells you your suspicions are wrong.
But if you approach her sensitively, without being critical, most people will appreciate an expression of concern for their well-being, even if they are not ready to talk about their situation. It is unlikely you will make things ‘worse’ by expressing concern.
“My family knew I was being abused and that I felt trapped, but they didn’t say anything about it until I finally left. It would have helped if they had said that his behaviour wasn’t ok, because I thought it was normal.
If they had said that I was a good person and that they were there if I needed them, it would have made getting out a lot easier.” —Ellie
How should I approach her?
Approach your friend or relative in a sensitive way, letting her know your own concerns. Tell her you’re worried about her, then explain why. For example: I’m worried about you because I’ve noticed you seem really unhappy lately."
Don’t be surprised if she seems defensive or rejects your support. She might be scared of worrying you if she tells you about the abuse. She may not be ready to admit to being abused, or may feel ashamed and afraid of talking about it. She might have difficulty trusting anyone after being abused. If the victim is a man, he may feel particularly embarrassed about speaking about the abuse as he may be seen as ‘weak’ or ‘unmanly’.
Don’t push the person into talking if they are uncomfortable, but let them know that you’re there if they need to talk. Be patient, and keep an ear out for anything that indicates they are ready to talk about the abuse.
What can I do to help her?
The most important thing you can do is to listen without judging, respect her decisions, and help her to find ways to become stronger and safer.
“You don’t have to fully understand to be of assistance. All you have to do is give your time and love without being judgemental.” —Jane
“What would really have helped is to have a relative or friend to mind the kids for a while. I just needed the time to think and work out my feelings without the kids being around all the time.” —Soraya
Questions you could ask and things you could say
These are just some ideas. It is important that you only say what you believe, and use your own words.
What not to do …
When talking to someone who is being abused, some things may not help, or may stop her from wanting to confide in you fully.
Here are some of the things victims of abuse say did not help:
Helping to increase her safety
Whether she is staying in the relationship or has separated, it is important to think about how she can be protected from further abuse.
What can I do if I witness or overhear physical violence or threats?
If you believe there is immediate physical danger and that she and her children are about to be harmed, call the police on 000 immediately.
If you do have the opportunity to talk to her at another time, ask about whether or not she would like you to call the police. She may fear that calling the police may make things worse for her. Many people are afraid of involving the police, especially those from non-English speaking backgrounds or indigenous communities who may have had bad past experiences. You could call a domestic violence service to find out about how you could help in this situation.
But remember, when you think there is immediate physical danger, call the police on 000.
Looking after yourself
Supporting a friend or relative who is being abused can be frustrating, frightening and stressful. You need to look after yourself and to get support too.
Feeling frustrated or angry that she hasn’t left the relationship
Remember that letting her know you’re frustrated or disappointed will not help her, and may only make things worse. Don’t give up on her, regardless of her decisions. Explain your fears, but let her know you will still support her. Remind yourself that your support is important, and will have a positive impact on her, even if she can’t express this now. Don’t underestimate the value of your support.
Feeling afraid or ‘out of your depth’
Get some support for yourself. Talk to other friends or contact a service for information on what you can do.
Feeling pressured to help more than you are able
Be honest about the amount and type of support you can offer. Don’t push yourself beyond your own limits – you can only fully support her if you look after yourself too. Remember that you are not responsible for the abuse, and you cannot ‘rescue her’. She can also get support from the services listed at the end of this guide.
How can I respond to her abusive partner?
Be careful. Don’t place yourself in a position where the person who is being abusive could harm or manipulate you. Don’t try to intervene directly if you witness a person being assaulted – call the police instead.
If the person who is being abusive is your friend or relative, you may feel caught in the middle.
It is important to understand that if you approach the person who is abusive, he or she may:
None of these responses mean that he or she is not abusive. It is common for a person who is being abusive to deny or minimise the abuse. Probably the only way you will be able to ‘verify’ that a person is abusive is if their partner tells you that they are, or if you witness the abuse. Even someone who appears to be ‘respectable’ and ‘normal’ can be abusive in the privacy of their own home.
It is possible that the person who is abusive may admit the abuse was their fault, but say they don’t know how to stop their behaviour. If the person who is abusive is male, he can be encouraged to call the Men’s Referral Service (in Victoria – there are other services for abusive men in other States) for anonymous and confidential advice on how he may go about ending his use of violence. See services. If the abusive person is female, she can contact her local Community Health Service.
If you do observe abuse, and only if you feel safe or able to, talk about the behaviour you have observed. For example: ‘You are both my friends, but I think the way you criticise and intimidate her is wrong’. But if you only know about the abuse because the victim has talked to you about it, check with her first before saying anything to her partner. Her partner could become more abusive to her if he or she thinks she has told someone.
A man speaking to another man, or a woman speaking to another woman about their abusive behaviour can be a helpful way of approaching this issue. Don’t focus on trying to understand why the person is abusive, or on trying to work out how to change him or her. Don’t get involved in excusing the abuse. Focus on what the person who is abusive is going to do about it, and encourage them to call the Men’s Referral Service.
Services that can help
In Victoria, and in other states, there are 24 hour crisis hotlines, as well as local Domestic Violence Services which can provide information and practical support in finding safe accommodation, housing, or obtaining legal or financial assistance.
You can call these for information, or pass the number on to your friend or family member.
Safe Steps (Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service)
24 hour telephone crisis counselling, information, referral and support for women experiencing domestic violence. Phone 1800 015 188 www.safesteps.org.au
24-hour counselling to anyone within Australia. You can talk to them about any problem, big or small. Phone: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
24 hour counselling and support service for people impacted by sexual assault, family violence. Phone: 1800 737 732 www.1800respect.org.au
Women's Support Line
Run by Women's Information and Referral Exchange Inc. you can call this free, confidential and state-wide phone service on 1800 811 811 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday). You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kids Helpline provides private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling for children, teens, young adults and also for parents and carers on 1800 55 1800 (toll-free).
Email: email@example.com Counselling and WebChat is also available.
What's OK at Home?
This website for young people has been developed by the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria. It has been designed to help people understand what family violence is, why it happens, how to recognise it and how to help others who are experiencing it. Website: www.woah.org.au Phone: Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800
The Line – Website for young people
So, 'the line': What is it, Where is it, and What happens when you cross it?
Sometimes, there’s no argument about where to draw the line in our friendships and relationships. But the line can get blurry. So, we’re here to talk about it. This website talks about relationships, gender, sex, bystander action, technology and communication ; how to keep it healthy and respectful, and avoid crossing the line into behaviour that makes someone feel frightened, intimidated or diminished.
So, check out our articles, #knowseetheline, follow us on Facebook and join the conversations about where you draw the line. www.theline.org.au
Men's Referral Service
Men’s Referral Service provides an anonymous and confidential phone counselling, information and referrals service on 1300 766 491 for:
MensLine is a national phone and online support service for men with family and relationship concerns, which includes video counselling on 1300 78 99 78
Victims Support Agency – Men
The Victims Support Agency provides support and information to help adult male victims of family violence and victims of violent crime. The service guides victims through the legal process and helps manage the effects of crime through practical assistance and counselling. Call the Victims of Crime helpline on 1800 819 817 or use the text service via 0427 767 891 (8.00 am to 11.00 pm, 7 days a week).
Centres Against Sexual Assault
These are confidential, non-profit, government-funded organisations providing support and intervention for women, children and men who are victim survivors of sexual assault. The Sexual Assault Crisis Line is 1800 806 292 (24/7). You can also email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners. Phone: 1300 364 277
Aboriginal Family Domestic Violence Hotline
1800 019 123 (24 hours) Victims Services has a dedicated contact line for Aboriginal victims of crime who would like
information on victims’ rights, how to access counselling and financial assistance.
Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service (FVPLS)
This is an Aboriginal community-run organisation providing assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim survivors of family violence and sexual assault. You can call FVPLS on 1800 105 303
InTouch: Multicultural Centre against Family Violence
This is a state-wide organisation specialising in services, programs and responses to family violence in migrant and refugee communities. You can call InTouch on 1800 755 988
National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline
Visit website: email@example.com An Australia-wide telephone hotline for reporting abuse and neglect of people with disability. Call the free hotline on: 1800 880 052
Our Place Online
An online forum for men and women who have suffered abuse in all its forms: psychological, verbal, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse. The forum is run by a community of volunteers all over the world. Our Place aims to help educate and support those wishing to heal from the damage done. Website: www.our-place-online.net
Translating & Interpreting Service
Call the hotline for help 131 450 Gain free access to a telephone or on-site interpreter in your own language. Immediate phone interpreting is available 24 hours every day of the year on: 131 450
Rotary SAFE Families thanks the Domestic Violence Resource Centre (Victoria) for their acknowledgement of prevention of family abuse.