Understanding Violence Part I: Guidelines for supporting friends

  1. power_and_controlRecognise and affirm subtler forms of violence. Less visible forms of violence, like emotional neglect, repeated insults or put downs, control, silencing or dominating one’s partner and verbal/visual sexual harassment often go unnoticed, but can cause victims a lot of distress and trauma, especially when it has been going on for a while. Be careful not to trivialise or minimise their experience.
  2. Use their words. If you think what happened to your friend is sexual assault, or relationship abuse, but they aren’t using those terms to describe them, don’t impose this language on them, as it may be overwhelming and they might shut down. Depending on your relationship with them and the circumstances, you can gently introduce the idea, if you think they are open to it. E.g. “What you’re describing sounds like abuse to me.” But initially, use the words they use, and ask questions that may help them unpack their experience. For example, if they say “we keep fighting”, but describe instances where they are fearful and intimidated by their partner, you can ask, “do you think (their partner) feels scared of you during these fights?”
  3. More often than not, perpetrators are known, and even close to victims. Recognise that they may have emotional attachment, financial dependency and/or otherwise complex relationships with their perpetrators. Be sensitive to that. Even though we may see them as violent and abusive, the victim may have more sympathetic feelings for the perpetrator. Referring to a woman’s husband as her “rapist”, for example, can be very difficult for her. Many victims of relationship abuse also go through cycles of violence, where their may partner promise to change after each episode of violence, or blame the victim for the violence – these patterns can have a deep impact on how they see their situation.
  4. Everyone deals with trauma differently, and your friend may have a coping mechanism that is confusing or surprising to you. For example, someone who has experienced sexual assault or an abusive relationship may talk about it very casually, or even laugh while referring to it. This does not mean that they are being untruthful or that they are not traumatised, and the expectation that they must show trauma in certain ways can hinder meaningful communication between you.Exercise: Think of some ways that you respond to or cope with difficult or unpleasant situations. Do you think some of your coping mechanisms may be hard for others to understand?
  5. PeerCounseling-400People are the best experts of their own lives. Don’t take things into your own hands or try any ways to “help” without the victim’s clear and voluntary consent. For example, you may think it is a good idea to confront the perpetrator, but the victim might feel that doing so will put them (and you) in further danger. Or you may believe that if someone is in an abusive relationship, they should leave their partner. But they may not be ready to do so, and leaving might lead to a new set of difficulties and struggles that they are not prepared to face. Always respect the victim’s choice – they know best. Exercise: Think about and list all the possible reasons why someone may not be able or willing to leave an abusive relationship. Putting ourselves in the shoes of others helps build empathy and allows us to respond in more sensitive ways.
  6. Don’t expect to be able to save the day or solve their problem. Also, don’t expect that the victim will be ready to take action right away or in the near future. Sometimes, the victim may not feel ready to take any steps that you’ve suggested. And sometimes, they may not want to discuss options, but just share their feelings. You may get frustrated that nothing is changing and because you don’t feel like you’re helping. You may also feel disappointed if they say they will take a certain step, but don’t follow through. Remember that listening is helping. And because the victim isn’t ready to take any steps now, it doesn’t mean they will never be ready. Leave the door open for future conversations. Helpful things to say:“I understand this is very hard for you. If you change your mind, or feel ready to do any of the things we’ve discussed, I’m right here.”
    “We can talk about it again, whenever you need to.”
    What else can you say in such a situation?

Watch this space for Part II of Understanding Violence!


A game, a story, a change

Written by Min, Change Maker

coverThe beginning of 2010 marked the end of my life as I knew it. A 360 degree change in my personality was seen, blocks were put up in my memories and the brown lines on my wrists never seemed to fade.

For half a decade, I avoided the topic. I refused to work on it with my counsellor. I refused to acknowledge that it even happened. That is, until, by some fate or coincidence, my school decided to allocate me to AWARE for my internship. I knew, then, that I cannot run away from my problems forever.

I decided to make a game as part of my final-year project. A game about intimate partner violence, a game that tells the stories of its victims through words, pictures and music. I know that AWARE and We Can! have plenty of workshops and programmes. But I, as an introvert, know what a struggle it is to sign up for a workshop or programme, knowing that I will be in a room full of strangers. It may be too big of a first step for some. So, I thought, “Why not bring it to the comforts of one’s home?”

Celestial chainedThe game I made is titled The Healing Doll and it adopts an RPG and visual novel style. In the first part of the game, you play as Celestial. You have amnesia, and as you explore your surroundings, you uncover your lost memories and the horrors of your previous abusive relationship. You end up severely traumatised. This is to highlight the emotional turmoil experienced by a lot of victims. In the second part of the game, you play as Alex, Celestial’s friend. Seeing Celestial in such a state, you blame yourself for it. Until a mysterious Cat Man promises you the power to travel back in time and change the past. From then on, the choices you make will impact the plot and final outcome of the game. This is to show that when we choose to stand up and step in, we can make changes.

As my game drew close to a completion, insecurities and uncertainty overwhelmed me. I am no art student, nor am I a programming student – but I am psychology student with a Wacom Tablet and passion for programming. The game is by no means of perfect quality as everything is created within a month, but I can assure you that my emotions and feelings are in it. The journey of creating the game is not an easy one. At the beginning, flashbacks blinded my eyes. The memories I stored in a box exploded. But I kept going. I kept going, till a point where I felt okay. After that, my only struggles are the expectations I had of myself and my constant belief that my game is not good enough.

alex and cel in schoolOf course, I did not make it through alone. There are friends and people who love me who stuck by me through this journey. Just like the characters in my game, we all need some external help sometimes.

What do I hope to achieve with this game? Initially, I was ambitious. I wanted to change people’s mindset, I wanted to change people’s beliefs and attitudes. But then I realise that it is not realistic. I cannot change people’s mindset, but I can act as a stepping stone towards the change I want to see. With a little more understanding and a little more knowledge, it will be possible.

To victims of intimate partner violence out there, you are not alone. To friends of victims, there are many ways you can help. To everyone else, you are part of a society that can change.

About the Author: Min is the whackiest psychology student you’ll ever meet. If you see her, run far away.