Know the facts about woman abuse.
Assure her that you believe her story.
Listen and let her talk about her feelings.
Do not judge or give advice. Talk to her about her options.
Physical safety is the first priority. If you believe she is in danger, tell her.
Help her plan an emergency exit.
Respect her right to confidentiality.
Let her know you care and want to help.
Allow her to feel the way she does and support her decisions. Let her talk about the caring aspects of the relationship as well. Don't try to diminish her feelings about her partner. Don't criticize her for staying with him, but share information on how abuse increases over time without intervention.
Give clear messages, including:
Violence is never okay or justifiable.
Her safety and her children's safety are always the most important issues.
Wife assault is a crime.
She does not cause the abuse.
She is not to blame for her partner's behaviour.
She cannot change her partner's behaviour.
Apologies and promises will not end the violence.
She is not alone.
She is not crazy.
Abuse is not loss of control, it is a means of control.
Discuss how the violence affects the children.
Be encouraged that every time she reaches out for help she is gaining the emotional strength needed to make effective decisions. She may be too fearful and immobilized or confused to take any step immediately.
Although police can be asked to accompany a woman going back home to retrieve personal belongings, encourage her to be prepared for the possibility of leaving home in a hurry. She should have necessary documents or photocopies ready, as well as important items such as:
credit cards, cash, bank books, passport, birth certificates, citizenship papers, house keys, medications, children's favourite toy, clothing, etc.
An abused woman needs our support and encouragement in order to make choices that are right for her. However, there are some forms of advice that are not useful and even dangerous for her to hear:
Don't tell her what to do, when to leave or when not to leave.
Don't tell her to go back to the situation and try a little harder.
Don't rescue her by trying to find quick solutions.
Don't suggest you try to talk to her husband to straighten things out.
Don't place yourself in danger by confronting the assaultive man.
Don't tell her she should stay for the sake of the children.
Never recommend joint family or marital counselling in situations of emotional or
physical abuse. It is dangerous for the woman and will not lead to a resolution that is in her interest.
Encourage separate counselling for the man and woman, if they want counselling.
How to Help Children Who Witness Abuse
Understand that there is a reason for the child's behaviour, and acknowledge that in words for her. Children will work out reasons of their own for the turmoil, often blaming themselves, unless you discuss what is going on.
Let your children know that the fighting is not their fault.
Give them permission to talk about the abuse. Information, and talking about feelings helps to sort out what is going on. If you are not able to handle talking with your child, make sure she knows one or two other people that you feel comfortable having her talk to.
Help them to work out a safety plan: a safe place to go when there is fighting, numbers they can call, and make sure they know it is not safe to get in between fighting adults.
Acknowledge the mixed feelings they may have toward their dad; it is still okay to love him, and hate what he does.
Make sure your child knows that keeping silent about abuse at home sometimes leads to keeping silent about other negative experiences.
Help the child to identify feelings other than anger, and help them find safe ways to express those feelings. Try to notice and comment on what your child is doing right.
Be as specific as you can about what is going to happen in everyday life. Children who live with abuse need information ahead of time about where they will be, and how long they will stay. If your child has a hard time separating from you, reassure him, and tell him you will be safe and when you will be back.
Get support for yourself. It takes extra patience to cope with a child who is acting out because of witnessing abuse.
For Teachers and Child Care Workers
Try to incorporate into daily activities a discussion of feelings and how to express them and recognize them in other people. Some children who witness violence only recognize and express anger: a feeling vocabulary helps them to express what they are experiencing.
A child who witnesses abuse often has a short attention span, as a result of being constantly on edge at home. Try to avoid focusing excessive negative attention on this behaviour, and if possible, support the child in redirecting his energy.
Try to discuss behaviour in terms of "safe and not safe", rather than "bad, good, nice, not-nice". The child may already be suffering with very low self-esteem and will tend to identify with the aggressor in her family, if she hears at school that she is not nice.
Consistency, routine and follow-through are very helpful in assisting a child who is coping with violence. Try to create a feeling of safety and predictability in the child's environment, using visual cues like clocks whenever possible. Self-esteem words and phrases that identify concrete examples of positive behaviour (helpful cleaning up, shared his snack) go a long way to counter feelings of worthlessness and helplessness, especially when written down.
Be as clear as possible about rules, and consequences. Try to avoid the appearance of arbitrary punishments or decisions. Children who witness violence often have a very keen sense of justice.
Offer limited choices. This increases a child's sense of control over her world.
Try to be patient with decision making: it may be an unusual experience for her.
Give a time limit.
School-age children can benefit from discussions of gender stereotyping. Boys especially need to know that the abuser in their family is not the only way to be male.
Challenge stereotypes in popular culture that show helplessness and aggression.
Identify other ways of coping with problems.
Help the child identify her "support systems": safe family members or adults that can help a child by listening.
Know that the child's mother is doing the best they can under the circumstances. Be aware of the issues she is facing, and try not to judge her for what may look like poor parenting practices in your view. If you have noticed routines or patterns that seem to help or hinder the child, share them with his mother, but be aware that she may not always be able to act on the information immediately or consistently.