I spent several hours in Perth City today asking complete strangers if they would complete a short survey to help a friend with her PhD research on domestic violence against women. Over 200 people were kind enough to give their time and they received nothing in return but profuse gratitude. I sincerely thank all those people for their kindness – including those who did not have the time to complete the survey but were kind in how they declined! The issue of violence against women is one that needs to be talked about a lot more, and it is even more relevant that I am posting this now because today (25th November) is White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Violence perpetrated against women by their current and ex- partners is a leading cause of illness, injury or death in Australian women between the ages of 15 and 45, and one in three Australian women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime (click here for more info). And while the name of the day focuses on women, in truth we all know that domestic violence occurs against children and men too.
People in abusive situations need help, whether that abuse is physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, or financial. No one ever wants to be in an abusive relationship, but they will remain for many reasons: whether it be out of love, fear of reprisal, fear for children, lack of power, lack of support, or simply because they are not aware that what is happening to them is abuse. Those who have suffered and are suffering abuse need our help.
Most of us are sadly unsure and afraid of how to respond to domestic violence if we become aware of it. There are many reasons why: we might be afraid of making the situation worse, getting abused ourselves, shaming a friend or family member, or we might be uncertain whether abuse is actually happening.
If you are experiencing abuse, or become aware of (or suspect) abuse occurring to someone else, do not remain silent. What you need to do is call someone who can help. Unless you are a professional who knows what to do, don’t try to wrack your brains about what to do (and then stay silent because you are stuck) - just call a helpline where people are trained to give you appropriate advice that will suit your situation. Even if you aren’t sure anything is wrong, just call anyway. You will not regret an anonymous phone call, but you may regret staying silent.
If you are in immediate danger or witnessing an act of violence occurring do not hesitate - call the police. This is regardless of whether it is happening to a stranger or someone you know. Also do not assume that if there are many people standing around watching that someone must have called – call yourself to make sure. If you are concerned that you are actually causing abuse, do not stay silent and be ashamed of yourself: you must get help too, so call the domestic violence helpline.
If you are in Australia, call the Police (000) if there is immediate danger, or anonymously call the National Confidential Helpline (24hr) on 1800 200 526, and they can either help you directly or put you in touch with a service that can (other services for Australia are listed here).
If you are not from Australia, make sure you know your emergency number, and do a search for the appropriate domestic violence helpline (quick hotline links for the USA, UK, New Zealand, and some services for Canada because I couldn’t find a national helpline). The phone number for most helplines will not appear in your phone bill, and their websites typically provide advice to stop the website from showing up in your history.
Please make sure that you do not stay silent about this issue. Speak up against domestic abuse when the issue is raised, educate other people about the issue and how they can help if they know of abuse, and make sure you do not stay silent if you suspect abuse.