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Helping Someone You Know (130 KB)
If you witness or are involved in an emergency situation where someone is being hurt or threatened with violence, call the Police immediately on 111. You might save someone from being injured or killed. In an emergency situation, you do not need permission from the person being hurt to ring Police.
If it is NOT an emergency situation, but you know someone is being abused by a partner, ex-partner or family member, the best thing to do is to build trust with that person, offer non-judgmental support and information about specialist domestic violence services like Shine’s Helpline. Make sure they know that you won’t share anything they tell you about their situation unless they want you to, or unless it is an emergency situation and they are being hurt – or are at risk of being hurt - at that moment.
If you're talking to someone who you know or suspect is being abused by a partner or family member, only say things or ask questions about the abuse in a private setting, when there are no other family members around, and no verbal children who might inadvertently share what you've said or asked.
If you're contacting them by phone, text or social media private messaging, be careful not to say or write anything that will raise the abusive person's suspicions or put them at further risk should the abusive person read it.
If you are sending a written message, keep your questions general about their welfare, do not ask specific questions about the abuse, e.g. 'How are you doing? Can we make a time to catch up on the phone?' If you're talking on the phone, you can suggest that if it's not safe for them to talk, they can say 'I think you have the wrong number' and hang up and you will call them again another time. If it is safe for them to talk, you can suggest a code word or phrase they can use if it becomes unsafe for them during that call or in the future.
If you suspect that someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse but you’re not sure, give them encouragement and space to talk, but also be direct about your concerns. Start with general questions like: How are things at home? How's it going with your partner?
If the answers are vague and if you continue to suspect that person is experiencing domestic violence, then ask questions to clarify what they mean, and make your questions more specific: That’s terrible that you and your partner are not getting on well lately. What happens when you argue with him/her? What does he/she do when he's stressed or angry?
If you continue to suspect they are experiencing domestic violence, ask direct questions about whether they are afraid or being hurt or hit: That's a nasty bruise. Did your partner hurt you? Are you ever afraid of him/her? Has he/she ever hurt you, pushed you, or been violent to you? Do you feel like you’re being controlled by him/her or feel like it’s not okay to just be yourself?
Many victims will not offer this information unless you ask directly; they may think you don’t want to know, or be afraid you will not believe them or will judge them badly. Asking direct questions may help them to feel like they can tell you what’s really going on because you are showing that you are prepared to hear the truth.
Remember that words like 'victim' or 'abuse' may not describe how they see their situation, so be specific in your questions by asking about being hurt or hit, being afraid or being controlled.
If they don’t want to answer your questions or tell you what’s going on, that’s okay – you don’t want it to feel like they’re being interrogated. Let them know you’re there for them if and when they want to talk to you about what’s happening to them and continue to build trust.
If that person discloses that they are being controlled, hurt, or abused in some way, take the time to understand and acknowledge how they have resisted the abuse, and always respond in a way that maintains that person's dignity. No one wants to be abused, and while people in these situations do not have the power to stop the other person's abusive behaviour, they will resist in a range of ways to preserve their dignity and sense of control over their own life - from what they are thinking and telling themselves in their mind, to help-seeking in many and often creative ways, to asserting their voice and autonomy, even when they may know the likely result is violence. “I’m not surprised that you've been depressed - what your partner has done to you sounds terrible and very frightening. I think you have been very brave in sharing with me what you're going through.”
Acknowledge the trust they have in you to share their situation, and reassure them that you can be trusted: “Thank you so much for telling me what’s happening to you. I can imagine it was probably scary to tell me, but I want you to know that you can trust me. I won’t share what you’ve told me with anyone unless you want me to or unless it is an emergency situation and you are being hurt or threatened at that moment."
It's important that you are clear and consistent with this message - it might be the first time that the person has heard it. People may blame themselves and feel they deserve the abuse. It's important they hear things like: “It's not your fault. There's no excuse for that sort of behaviour. You are entitled to be safe.”
Check for current safety
If the person's safety is at risk in the near future – e.g. their ex-partner is stalking them and has threatened violence - encourage and offer to support them to make contact with a specialist domestic abuse service like Shine’s Helpline. But if anyone is in immediate danger, call the Police on 111. “Are you afraid he might kill you, or have you ever felt like that? How safe do you feel right now? Are you okay to go home? Do you know about Shine's Helpline? If it would help you, I can support you with making this call?”
People experiencing abuse who have care of children often prioritise their children’s wellbeing over their own and will have much more to weigh up in making the decision whether to stay or leave the relationship, including how likely it is that their partner will win a custody battle. can't be there to protect their children when they are in the care of the partner. If they are considering leaving the relationship, they are likely to need support to meet the needs of their children during and after leaving, so offer what you can. Read more below under ‘Concern for the safety of a child.’
“I'm concerned about you/your safety. I'd really like to see you get some more support - this is a very tough situation. There are some really excellent help services set up to help in just this sort of situation – do you want me to give you the number of Shine’s confidential Helpline? It's free to call and answered every day of the week.”
You can download for free or order printed copies of this comprehensive booklet to share from here.
Sometimes people experiencing domestic violence choose to deny their situation, but once you’ve asked some questions, they may consider discussing it later with you or someone else. Either way it’s helpful for them to hear: “My door's always open. You might like to talk to me about it another time - that's OK.”
Someone experiencing abuse is most likely to be seriously injured or killed just before, during, and after leaving a violent partner. It can also be very dangerous for someone experiencing domestic violence to disclose their situation if their abusive partner finds out about the disclosure. Keeping quiet and staying in an abusive relationship may be less dangerous, at least in the short term. Someone in this situation is likely to need a lot of planning and support to leave an abusive partner safely, especially if they are pregnant or have young children.
NZ research shows that people experiencing domestic violence feel best served and supported by specialist organisations like Shine, so make sure you give them Shine’s Helpline number. You cannot solve the problem for them, but with your support, good information and time, they may regain safety and control over their life.
If you know or suspect that a child is being physically or sexually abused, ring the Ministry for Children (Oranga Tamariki) on 0508-326-459. This line is answered 24/7. You can ring anonymously to talk through a situation before deciding whether to make a formal report. Even this can be scary for some people, so another place to start is to ring Shine's Helpline for advice.
If you know or suspect that a child is being exposed to violence or abuse in the home, ring Shine’s Helpline to talk through the situation and get advice on what action to take. Often these situations involve the children’s mother being abused by their father, step-father or mother’s boyfriend. If the mother is a safe and protective caregiver, the best way to help the children is usually to support their mum to be safe. Situations can be complicated and it’s always a good idea to get some specialist advice before intervening.
If you are going to talk to someone who is using violent or abusive behaviour, it is important to stress that your concern stems from personal observations, or from what someone told you who is NOT their partner (or another person who is the target of their abuse), as this is likely to increase that person’s danger. It's best, if you can, to let the victimised partner know that you are willing to speak to the person abusing them and discuss with that person what would be useful and safe for you to say. Never do or say something that is going to put that person at greater risk of abuse.
If the situation is a man abusing a female partner or ex-partner, other men who are close to him are the most likely to be able to influence him to change his behaviour.
If you have trust or influence with someone using abusive behaviour, it is important to talk to them if it's safe to do so. Your main message to them should that abuse and violence to a partner, ex-partner or family member is never OK, but it is OK to ask for help.
If you are encouraging someone to get help, it's important to suggest a specialist non-violence programme like Shine’s No Excuses programme for men. In some locations, there are also non-violence programmes for women.
Most counsellors will not have the skills to be able to do this work safely and effectively. You can ring Shine’s Helpline for a referral to your local non-violence programme. Another helpline specifically for this audience is 0800 Hey Bro (439 276) run by He Waka Tapu.
Suggesting an alcohol and drug programme may be helpful if the person also has an alcohol and/or drug problem, but changing their drinking/using behaviour is unlikely to stop their controlling behaviours even if it stops the worst of their violence, so it's important to also suggest a non-violence programme.
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