“How do you ask people if they’re in an abusive relationship?”

In my role as the Director of The Rita Project and as a person with lived experience of domestic abuse, I’m frequently asked for that one magic question. There are so many people I’ve met throughout my journey from survivor to business owner who know of someone, a friend, family member or colleague that they feel might be in an abusive relationship and want to help. The idea of this question appears to be a considerable barrier to starting a potentially game changing conversation. How do you ask? When do you ask? Is it your place to ask & why should you? Is it any of your business? What if the person gets angry at you for asking? What do you do if that person says yes?

Understandably, it can feel like a scary conversation, but I cannot emphasize enough the positive effects it could have on someone who needs to be heard. For you as an employer, a colleague, a friend, family member or parent here are some of the ways you can help.

 

Listen

Imagine you are sharing your biggest, deepest darkest secret with someone. Experience that feeling of stepping into the unknown and concern that the person you are telling reacts in a way you don’t expect.  If someone shares their experience with you, it’s so important they feel heard. They may be looking for advice, to sound something out with you or just to vent. By remaining calm, quiet and listening can really help someone in a moment where they need it.

 

Understand

Domestic Abuse can be complex and sometimes a little hard to get your head around. There are many different types of abuse that people can experience, some people may talk about some types of behaviour and not others. Some people may not be able to put their finger on what’s happening in their relationship but know they don’t feel safe or happy. I found this TUC report really helpful with understanding how abuse can impact people in the workplace www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/domestic-violence-and-workplace

You can learn more about abuse, it’s characteristics and impact on different groups of people from these sources:

Next steps

If you’re in a position of helping someone experiencing abuse, it’s important they know how to access specialist support, if the situation is becoming increasing physically and/or emotionally unsafe, do not hesitate to call 999.

Be prepared that someone may not want to take these steps immediately, and that’s OK. It can feel frustrating, sometimes the person experiencing the abuse can be blamed for not ‘helping themselves’ when others think they should be. If you find yourself in this position, please be patient. There are many reasons people stay in abusive relationships and they should never feel forced to make changes that could risk their safety.

If you’re an employer and responsible for the safety & wellbeing of your staff in the workplace, consider the steps you could take to create an environment where people feel safe and supported when facing challenges at home, if you’d like to explore this further please contact Madelaine @ TheRitaProject.com.

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