Saturday 21 July 2018

Don’t stand by, stand up

It’s time to stand up to domestic abuse. 

Now is the time to act

What would you do if you saw someone screaming at their partner, hand in a vice-like grip over their wrist, preventing their escape? What would you do if you noticed your work colleague trying to hide a bruise on their arm? What would you do if you suspected your best friend’s husband was isolating her from everything and everyone? What would you do if you were staring domestic violence in the face? Would you help, or would you look away?

If the events in Hollywood have taught us anything, it’s that abuse is not just something that happens between the victim and the aggressor. Anyone who ever observes inappropriate behaviour, overhears an admission of guilt, becomes a confidante to a victim or merely feels that something is not quite right – and does nothing – is complicit in the abuse. This complacency cannot be allowed to continue. Now is the time to stand up against domestic violence. Now is the time to act.

The What Would You Do? campaign

All too often victims suffer in silence. The What Would You Do? campaign wants you to be ready to listen to those experiencing domestic abuse who are very scared. To address the problem of domestic violence head on you must take responsibility for anything you might have seen or anything you might suspect. This is your opportunity to potentially help someone out of a nasty situation. When you could be the key to stopping systemic abuse, it is not good enough to think ‘someone else will do it.’ 

According to statistics put forward by Cosc –The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based violence – 300,000 people in Ireland have been severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives. In all these personal stories of abuse there are always signs – sometimes wilfully ignored, sometimes carelessly overlooked – that the victim needs help. The What Would You Do? campaign wants to make people aware of these signs – and turn bystanders into witnesses. The aim of the campaign is to bring about awareness. But more than that, it seeks to change the long-entrenched societal mind-set that what happens behind peoples’ closed doors is ‘their business’. 

What is abuse and how can you spot it?

When you think of domestic abuse, what comes to mind? The scenes we are shown in films or on TV lead us to believe there is only one type of domestic abuse. That of a man being violent with a woman. And while this is common, it is by no means the only iteration of domestic abuse. Abuse is something that transcends gender, age, race or societal class.  And not only that, the abuse itself can take many forms. It can be physical, emotional, sexual, financial, social or online abuse.

The What Would You Do? campaign website highlights each type of abuse in turn and the signs to look out for. Domestic abuse can mean burn marks, bruises, lacerations or other physical indications. But if the abuse is more psychological, the signs can be more difficult to spot. Has the victim become withdrawn? Isolated from their friends and family? Have they suddenly stopped working, at the bequest of their partner? At its root, all domestic abuse is about the aggressor’s control over the victim and a manipulation of a perceived weakness. If you think something seems ‘off’ between two people, it’s important not to ignore that instinct.

Reaching out to a friend

If the victim is someone you know well – a loved one, friend, family member or work colleague – recognising the signs of abuse can come easily. After all, you are so attuned to them that any change in their attitude or demeanour will naturally raise a red flag. But, paradoxically, because you know the person well, actually intervening is often more difficult. You are afraid (though hopeful) that you are wrong. Afraid that you’ll be labelled a busy body. Or afraid that you’ll alienate your friend – pushing them further towards the aggressor. So, what can you do?

Start by talking to them. Put the kettle on, sit them down and express your concerns in a non-judgemental way to see if they’ll open up. If they do confide in you, the most important thing to tell them is that none of this ill-treatment is their fault. They will be at their most vulnerable at this point and desperately need your reassurance – but not your advice. For actual advice, make sure they approach one of the many organisations trained to help.

Helping a stranger 

If you don’t know the victim or the aggressor, and the assault is something you witness on the street or at a party, you may need to confront it differently. Try to distract the aggressor away from the situation (without putting yourself in danger). If possible, then draw on the support of someone who may know the victim and ask them to step in. Help will often be more readily accepted from someone the victim knows. 

If the situation is already violent or looks like it’s escalating quickly, don’t directly intervene. Call the Gardaí on 999. The only effective bystander intervention is a non-violent one. If you try to “rescue” a victim or fight off an abuser, you’ll not only endanger yourself, but the abuser may take out their anger on the victim later. The victim could end up more isolated and less likely to seek help later on

What support is available?

You can familiarise yourself with all of these guidelines and much more on the campaign’s website

Sponsored by: AA

Sponsored by the Government of Ireland

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