Understanding Violence III: Guidelines for supporting friends

This is part 3 of the Understanding Violence guidelines series. Take a look at Part 1 and Part 2!

Abusive relationships (e.g. dating abuse, domestic abuse, elderly abuse)

  1. Help your friend make a safety plan. Safety plans are meant to be activated in case of an emergency and can be very different depending on the situation. There are many resources online on how to make a safety plan for different circumstances, but here are some basic elements to consider if your friend is living with their abuser:
    • Identify safe friends and places they could go to in an emergency
    • Help them pack a bag with essential items to take, should they need or decide to leave home. This bag should be kept at work or at a friend’s place.
    • Save emergency phone numbers in their phone (friend’s numbers, a Helpline number, etc) or on a piece of paper they keep in their purse, but in a way that will not arouse suspicion if their abuser goes through their phone/belongings.
    • Ask them what they are already doing to survive, and build on their existing strategies.
  2. If the abuser is a spouse, the victim can apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO) from the courts. The PPO may also come with mandatory counselling for the perpetrator. A violation of the PPO is grounds for arrest. The victim can also seek legal separation on grounds of abuse.
  3. Other options for someone in an abusive relationship include:
    • Individual counselling for the victim and/or perpetrator
    • Arbitration by family or friends
  4. Resources:
    • Family Violence Specialist Centres:
      • PAVE (Promoting Alternatives to Violence) – 6555 0390
      • TRANS Safe Centre – 6449 9088
  • Project StART Care Corner Helpline (for Mandarin speakers) – 1800 222 0000
  • Samaritans of Singapore (Suicidal) -1800 221 4444
  • Family Service Centres (ComCare Helpline) – 1800 222 0000
  • TWC2 (for migrant workers) – 1800 888 1515
  • AWARE Helpline – 1800 774 5935

Sexual assault or harassment

  1. Look up for information and resources on sexual assault.
    • Services include helpline, email support, WhatsApp chat, befriender service, counselling and case management and a drop-in centre.
    • Understand the laws, policies and procedures to make a police report.
    • Sexual Assault Care Centre hotline – 6779 0282
  2. Look up for information specific to workplace sexual harassment.

Understanding Violence Part II: Guidelines for supporting friends

This is part 2 of the Understanding Violence guidelines series. Take a look at Part 1 here

Woman-crying_920x380_scaled_cropp1.  Support them through their choices.

If they want to make a police report or go to the hospital, offering to go with them for support can make a big difference.

  • If they are open to seeing a counsellor, you can offer to call and make an appointment for them.
  • If they agree to make a safety plan, you can make it with them.
  • You can follow up with them on steps they wanted to take, checking in gently to see how they’re doing and if they have made any progress on that/require further support. 

2.  Offer resources. Often, people may not realise what options are available to them. Look up resources for support in such a situation, and share them with your friend. It could be a helpline number, free legal services, counselling services, etc. Educate yourself on the available options and discuss them with your friend. If you are able to, and comfortable with it, you can also offer personal resources. For example, they may need some money or a place to stay temporarily while they figure out their next steps. 

3.  Be sensitive to their position. When a victim of violence is queer, disabled, poor, an ethnic or religious minority, an immigrant, is lacking family support or is facing other societal and structural barriers, they may have even less access to conventional modes of support. Be sensitive to their particular situation, and don’t assume anything about their experience. 

4.  Encourage them to document their experience(s) of violation or abuse, with as many accurate details as possible. Even if they are not intending to make a police report at present, evidence collection and accounts of their experience can help build a case if they change their mind in the future or if the violence escalates and they want to seek legal recourse. 

support-survivors-sign5.  Self care is essential. When our loved ones experience trauma, it often affects us too. While supporting them, we must be responsible in caring for ourselves too and remember to do little things for ourselves that keep our spirits up, and seek help if we need to. 

6.  Encourage them to seek professional help. There are limits to the extent that friends and family can support someone experiencing trauma. Trained professionals can provide support in a multitude of ways, ranging from hotlines and counselling services to legal advice and casework. Encourage them to get the help they need if and when they are ready to. 

7.  Intervening during an incident of violence can be difficult, and even dangerous, but not impossible. Your safety is top priority. Every situation is different, but some ways people have effectively intervened when they witness sexual harassment or abusive behaviour are:

  1. Calling the police
  2. Asking the victim if they are OK or need help
  3. Getting the attention of others around so you have support and can speak in a collective voice
  4. If the perpetrator is known to you, and you feel you have the power to intervene safely (e.g. your friend is getting aggressive or touchy with someone in a club), you can leave with them, take them away from that area/the victim, or persuade them to stop.
  5. Distraction can be useful. In a case of molest on public transport, or catcalling, you can pretend to know the victim and strike up a conversation with them, offer your seat to the victim, or place yourself between them and the perpetrator.

Think about different scenarios you have been in and strategies that might be helpful. Talk to others about their experiences and strategies.

Supportive responses Unsupportive responses
•       It’s not your fault

•       I believe you

•       We’re here for you

•       What do you want to do?

•       What can I do to help?

•       Should we look up options together?

•       We can talk about it whenever you want to

•       This matters. You matter.

•       You don’t deserve to go through this.

•       I’m so sorry that happened.

•       (The perpetrator) is responsible for what happened, not you.

•       Who else do you trust to talk about this to?

•       Do you want me or someone else to talk to (the perpetrator)?

•       Do you want some space?

•       I’m going to support you no matter what.

•       You have nothing to be ashamed of.

•       You didn’t let it happen, (the perpetrator) chose to do it.

•       It’s your own doing

•       You can’t call that abuse/rape

•       You have to leave him!

•       Don’t take it so seriously

•       Are you sure?

•       What were you wearing?

•       Why did you…? / Why didn’t you…?

•       You have to take care of yourself better.

•       Don’t talk to that person anymore.

•       You chose to date a guy like that

•       Think about your kids/others

•       I told you so

•       Don’t exaggerate/Don’t lie

•       Just ignore it

•       Forget about it, it’s no big deal

•       How could you let this happen?

•       Let it go/It’s time to get over it

•       Think about (the perpetrator’s) life

•       Toughen up/Stop crying

•       You can’t let people treat you like that

•       If you weren’t so weak, this wouldn’t happen


Should I intervene?

by Sumithri Venketasubramanian, Change Maker

The recent viral video of the abuse of an elderly woman has brought to light something that many of us have probably experienced before: what do I do as a bystander in light of abuse?

When the victims of abuse are those close to us – our friends, family members and neighbours – we might feel compelled to intervene, but might also not know how to. After all, there are so many questions that could affect how we react: ‘It could just be a “family matter”, should I get involved?’ ‘What if by stepping in, I put the victim’s safety at further risk?’ ‘How do I ensure that I won’t get hurt in the process?’

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 4.20.13 pmAnd of course, it’s always important to assess the situation before taking action. Jumping in, or making decisions on behalf of the victim(s), without weighing the pros and cons of our options may end up putting ourselves or others in danger.

Abuse can have many forms, including physical, psychological, sexual, financial and verbal. Some signs are unexplained wounds, isolation, repeated absence from work or school, restlessness, anxiety and an inability to complete tasks. Due to the traumatic nature of abuse, it’s important to remain supportive and patient. Just being there for the victim and assuring them that they’re not at fault can be immensely helpful. Letting them know that you can be trusted and will support them with whatever they choose to do may encourage them to cope with their emotions better.

Ask them what they would like to do, and respect their decision. In many cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim, and it may not be easy to leave their homes in cases of domestic, child or elder abuse, for example. While it may seem ‘right’ to intervene and remove the affected from the abusive environment, doing so without their full consent may cause distrust within your relationship, which may not really aid the situation.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 4.19.52 pmMoreover, financial dependence and emotional attachment may also affect the decision to leave, move out or call the police. To a third-party, an abusive situation may seem evident, but to those involved, the lines may be blurred. Using words like “abuse” may be shocking to the victim, because they may not have viewed it as such. Instead, provide resources that may help, such as helplines, counselling services, nearby police offices, family service centres or help centres. (Some useful helplines can be found here.) Should they choose to report the case or seek help services, offering to go with them can help them feel safer in such an environment.

Should you suspect violence within a neighbour’s/friend’s/relative’s home, calling the police is an option that you can consider. The safety of those involved is of utmost importance. However, note the potential risks associated with doing so and decide accordingly. Generally, even after a report has been made, the perpetrator may not be removed from their home until sufficient evidence proving that they’ve caused harm has been produced. Should it come to the attention of the abuser that the abuse has been reported, the situation might escalate and the victim may be put in further danger. Evaluate the situation carefully. For the most part, though, calling the police is the right thing to do, and not doing anything at all could be worse than ‘interfering’.

Saying stuff like “I told you so” or “why didn’t you leave years ago” doesn’t help anybody; it may even cause them to feel guilty about their experience. Dealing with abuse is very difficult, and the best that we can do is to provide support and encouragement to our friends, family members or neighbours as they recover from what they’ve been though.

About the Author: Sumithri is a passive-aggressive activist who enjoys writing lengthy blog posts on some of the many issues faced in the world. She’s still trying to figure out which of the many social injustices to dedicate her life fighting against, but whatever it is, will contribute the best she can.



How I Coped With Dating Violence

A recount of struggles with dating violence and getting through it by Nicole Laurens, Change Maker

You can watch Nicole read her speech here!

Let me start by asking you this – how many dating violence cases have you heard of? A few? There are many more – some just choose to tell only those they ‘trust’. Which sometimes aren’t exactly the people who will help them get out of the current situation. Some are afraid of the consequences of coming out with their story. I was one of them, but I have turned that fear into something positive to encourage people to realize their self-worth as well as know their rights to live as a human being, not under anyone else. I don’t share my story for any other reason, than to make this group of people realize that they are not alone in their battles.

G44A0914Let me move on to describing what I see as abuse and show you why people take it really lightly. When you think of abuse, you think of… blood? Bruises? Scars? Well dating abuse comes in many forms, mainly physical, emotional and psychological. Violence, in the physical abuse sense, doesn’t just occur on its own. Whatever physical abuse you see or hear about has a much bigger abuse story behind it.

How do these people get into such relationships? Most of the time it starts with low self-esteem, having the habit of giving in and overlooking major flaws instead of rectifying the flaws. Why do they stay? The same reasons, and most commonly, fear. How mine started was with low self esteem. A school jock actually asked me out on a date and I was like, whoa, who me? Nobody was interested in knowing me, not that I was bothered but it was a big thing for me when he asked me out. He used this to his advantage, constantly reminding me later into the relationship that because of him, I was brought up to a higher social status and everyone knew me. Before he came around, I was a nobody. He reminded me of this several times and me, I felt like I owed it to him.

So it starts with these unhealthy thoughts, not respecting yourself and knowing your self worth enough. In other words, not loving yourself. When you start of with these things, you tend to overlook many occasions that disrespect yourself as a human being. I received my first slap a few months into the relationship because I wanted to leave him. Apart from not being allowed to call him by name, to walk away from a heated argument was considering rude instead of mature and not using up all my energy to apologise for something was considered little effort on my part.

So slowly it turned into fights in public areas, during my A level examination period, during work etc. Pulling of hair, pushing, getting screamed at, getting bruises from his really strong grip became norms. I’m not saying I’m an angel, yes, in self defence I learnt that being violent back got us ‘even’. Whenever I cried about getting hit, he’d say, ‘you hit me back the other day’. How did I ever think that was okay? So I got used to it, and I was so afraid to do so many things. Asking for a breakup was a ticket to getting into an emotionally exhausting argument that could last for days and sleepless nights. If he asked for a breakup and I didn’t disagree, I would be accused of being a liar, and getting called many degrading names also became a norm. Fat, ugly, dirty, smelly – if I didn’t date you, you think anyone else would? If you don’t lose weight, don’t be with me. I cried almost everyday until I woke up every single morning planning my day just so I don’t get him angry. If I did something wrong, I had to beg him for forgiveness. This snowballed into something so psychologically abusive that I turned into a completely different person and lost almost all my friends. I graduated with a handful of friends, mostly my classmates. The rest gave up on me, and they asked, ‘Why is she so stupid to stay with him?’ That’s how it snowballed, from a simple mistake on my part – not respecting myself enough. He kept saying, ‘You are the only one who will ever tolerate my attitude and the way I treat you. So when the day comes that I become better, you will be the only one who deserves me at my best.’ Constant forgiveness leads to you waiting for…. Practically nothing.

My colleague lodged a report for me, but my family dropped the charges, why? I wanted a better future for myself and I wanted him to change himself for his future and not ruin it. I wasn’t going to stoop to his level, trying to destroy someone else’s future. I’m better than that.

However, the question asked is such a common question – Why does she stay with someone like that? Or in other cases even, Why is he still with her when she abuses him? I feel that that shouldn’t be the first question on anyone’s mind when they hear about an abuse case. Shouldn’t they be asking instead – Why is he or she abusive? Why does he or she think they have the right to do that? Why does he or she event think that the victim is deserving of all of this? The same concept as when it comes to rape – instead of saying, Don’t get raped, people should be saying, Don’t rape. The antagonist in the situation shouldn’t be made to think that he or she has the right to continue doing what they want as they like.

For me, I knew that I had stop being afraid of all the threats and blackmails he dared to impose on me. I took the risk finally, left, and suffered consequences you cannot imagine. Threats given were carried out, my worst fears. He always said, ‘if you hurt me once, I’ll give you back ten fold’ and guess what, he meant it. I was distraught and my parents were disappointed because he got them involved. I couldn’t leave my house without being afraid that he might pop up somewhere unexpected and give chase. Which happened, of course. I spent my days running, not being able to live my life in peace. I hurt my parents so badly, the people who truly loved me, because of someone who had no clue what love was. Losing friends was hard but losing my parents, even for a week, was unimaginable.

Let me be honest, I was at my lowest – at my weakest. I took pills, a lot of them. I tried pills with alcohol. I took cough syrup. Which I realized, after talking to some people, was something a lot of people were actually taking to forget their problems. Yes I had complications with my body but none enough to end everything. So what I did was write a list of things I would miss, and the list of people who might miss me. Since I had nobody, I tried to get up myself and start talking to friends I lost. I’m glad to say, I got some of them back. It wasn’t easy, definitely. But I did it. I got these friends to support me. It wasn’t easy getting friends who genuinely wanted to help. Some people are just there to judge you, trust me. I’ve met too many of them. All they want to do is get into your life, know your story, then talk about it to their friends. Biggest mistake.

G44A0653I will not let my experience sink into me and affect what I have ahead of me but I will definitely put it into good, positive use. Since my downfall and my struggle to get back up, I have joined AWARE as a Change Maker, mainly because I want to raise awareness of dating violence and abuse as a whole. I plan to attend more workshops and hopefully eventually come up with my own because it irks me that people are in such situations, thinking they have insufficient support or that they’re too weak to step out of it.

To sum up, I lived a little over three years of my life believing that this was the only way to be strong – to hold on and not give up. To accept that there was no other way to save my life. Since I broke free from this prison, I had a few girls come to me telling me their issues. And these girls – they have no idea how to step out of it. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of girls and guys going through this. We think it’s love but love is not about possession or getting your way. Efforts do not mean you have to chase your partner for hours just to show it, or leave them 60 missed calls to prove you’re apologetic.

And you need to realize this.

Abuse, is not about blood, bruises and cuts only. Dating abuse is about how your life is affected by a relationship. Mine was extremely unhealthy but there are a lot of unhealthy relationships out there, no matter how mild you think it is. Step out of it. I allowed myself to let mine snowball into the unthinkable. It was very hard for me to recover. I had nightmares every single week due to my anxiety. When I tried moving on, I had the biggest fears that chased people I just met away.

Find people to speak to. Professionals, or people with experience who will provide that strength for you. You are NOT alone. Find help because some of us are more vulnerable than others. Fear is temporary. The loss of self-respect is extremely detrimental – I learnt that the hard way. There will be people who understand you, but of course you need to know who exactly. No matter what, life goes on. Love yourself before anyone else because when all else fails, only you are gonna there for you.

If you know of anybody going through any form of abusive relationship, please know that whatever you see happening, is only a tenth of what the victim goes through.

Of late, I have been providing support for a few girls who have come to talk to me since I reached out with my story.  Inspired by the event where I was being abused in school and not a single person came to stop it, I am also currently working on a dating abuse awareness campaign to hold in my university, hopefully early 2015.

Thank you.