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What to do (and not do) if you suspect or witness Domestic Violence

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Last updated: 01/12/2022

Last week, IMPACT Community Services’ Managing Director Tanya O’Shea spoke at the launch of Zonta’s 16 Day of Activism to end Gender Based Violence. During and after the event, there were many questions around what people should and should not do as bystanders to domestic violence, and how to approach someone if you are concerned they may be living in a domestic violence situation.

IMPACT Community Services supports domestic violence victims and families living with domestic and family violence through our Intensive Family Support program. This article will offer practical guidance on what we can do as bystanders, as well as what not to do if you witness or suspect domestic violence.

We have all been touched by family and domestic violence in some way. Some of us have experienced and survived it ourselves. Many of us have known someone who is in a domestic violence situation, and we’ve all seen the news reports calling for changes after the death of yet another person at the hands of their partner or spouse.

It’s a sensitive topic, and if you know or suspect that someone is experiencing domestic violence, it can be hard to know what to do, what to say and how to best support them.

Tanya reminds us that as bystanders we have a choice.

“The choice is not to judge, condemn or question. The choice is not to think that social issues such as domestic violence don’t affect me, choosing not to watch stories on the news or listen to the radio or on your social media feed,” she said.

“Turning your heads, reading your phone, remaining in the comfort of your home telling yourself you shouldn’t get involved when you hear the screams next door. Falsely telling yourself those things only happen to other people.”

It’s important to preface the rest of this article by stating that at all times you must keep your own personal safety at the forefront of your actions.

The truth is, there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to domestic violence, because every situation is different. Allowing yourself to be guided by the person who is surviving the abuse (if possible) will allow you – and them – to lower the level of risk.

Remember, domestic violence isn’t just physical abuse. It also includes emotional, financial, sexual, social, verbal, spiritual, elder and child abuse. For more information on the different types of abuse that fall into domestic and family violence, we suggest reading this article from Mission Australia, which offers definitions of each: https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/stories/safe-homes/types-of-domestic-violence-abuse

So what can we do?

IMPACT Community Services Bystander Program Coordinator Sasha Sloat said it’s vital to remember that your job is to empower and support. “It’s important not to take it personally if they are dismissive, rude or reject your offer to talk or help as they’re just trying to keep themselves safe,” she said. “Above all, offer to talk, but don’t judge – as soon as you judge them, whether it be for not leaving or something else, you are no longer a safe space.”

The Do’s:

  • Listen without judgement and take notes (after the person has left) as collative evidence is key with coercive control and may be needed to prove unsafe behaviours to the police.
  • Help them make a safety plan. This can include keeping things in the home if you know that the person is thinking of leaving (a bag with copies of documents – birth certificates, pre-paid mobile, pre-paid visa debit cards etc). This could also be extended to having a safe word. For example, a woman in the middle of a dispute may be able to send a blank text message to their safe person. That safe person will know what that means and call police.
  • Simply ask, are you ok? This could be to anyone, as there is no harm in asking those three words. It may take a week, a month or even a year, but if that person trusts you, they will eventually open up and tell you.
  • Allow them to use your phone to access support services if it is safe to do so.
  • If there are children involved, check in with them. It may be useful to work out a sign indicating that everything is not okay and intervention is needed, such as a particular toy placed in a window.
  • If you suspect financial abuse, offer extra food, to help with shopping, or give them some meals. Empower them with knowledge; allow them to use your phone to call financial counsellors with experience in financial abuse. Tell them that Centrelink can take $10 out of their payments and keep it aside to help leave, clear debt etc, and inform them that Debt Help also has specialists around domestic violence.
  • If you know someone who is experiencing domestic violence, it can be tempting to offer your home as a safe space. Before you do this, consider what you know about the perpetrator. Do they have links to gangs, drugs, politics etc, and how far might they go to keep the abuse going. Be aware that you may move the problem rather than fix it, so you need to have an onward plan to keep both the victim and you safe. Try saying this: “I might not be making a safe space here because of his/her (the perpetrator’s) choices. We need to get in touch with DV Connect and figure out where to go from here.”
  • If you hear what you suspect is a domestic violence incident taking place, consider if there is a way that you can safely interrupt. This will give you an opportunity to assess the situation. For example, you could knock on the door and ask to borrow something. Gauge the atmosphere when the door is answered, and what happens when the door is closed again. This can help you to decide whether to call the police, however if you are in doubt, it’s best to call them and let them handle the situation.
  • If you intervene in a situation you’ve witnesses (either individually or as a group), ensure you get the police to follow up.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t turn a blind eye. Domestic violence perpetrators engrain it into their victims that they’re worthless and no-one cares. By turning a blind eye, we are giving the abuser more power and disempowering the victim. That’s exactly what the victim was told would happen.
  • Don’t get up in the perpetrator’s face. This puts you at immediate risk, but it also heightens the risk for the victim. Remember, you will leave the situation, the victim will not and will have to deal with the consequences after you’ve gone.
  • When speaking with someone living in a domestic violence situation, never say, “why don’t you just leave?”. It is rarely that simple, and many factors play into a victim’s ability to leave a violent situation. They may have issues with money, fear for the safety of their children, threats may have been made to instil fear of the consequences of leaving, or they may simply have nowhere else to go. Instead try saying: “I’m here to support you with whatever choices you make to either stay or leave the relationship”.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. Just because a person may tell you that they are having an argument or their partner isn’t answering the phone, this doesn’t mean that their partner is abusive. In our community we can tend to panic, this won’t help anyone. If anything, it will create a riskier and potentially dangerous environment.
  • Don’t assume that only women are victims of domestic violence. Men can, and do, experience domestic violence. Men who experience domestic violence are less likely than women to seek help - research shows that only 20% of men who experience violence and abuse speak up.

Help available for domestic and family violence

Help is available if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence. It’s important to bear in mind that some services will require evidence in order to provide financial assistance. This could be a DVO or a support letter from a service such as IMPACT Community Services or Edon Place, or a letter from Children’s Services.

IMPACT Community Services supports victims and families living with domestic violence through their Intensive Family Support program. Ph 4153 4233

Edon Place provides specialist domestic and family violence support services in the Bundaberg and North Burnett regions, including counselling, perpetrator intervention, temporary crisis accommodation and a range of other support services. Ph 4153 6820

The Department of Housing can provide funding for those escaping domestic violence to start over with furniture and whitegoods or cover the cost of moving their items interstate.

Uniting Care offers Escaping Violence Payments of up to $5000 within 12 weeks of leaving a domestic violence situation. You will need to provide evidence to access this payment.

Energy providers are able to clear debt if you can provide evidence of domestic violence.

Bundaberg Police have a dedicated Vulnerable Persons Unit which supports families living with domestic violence where there has been continued Police intervention.

Keeping Women Safe in their Homes (KWSITH) helps women and their children who have experienced family and domestic violence to remain in their homes or a home of their choosing, when it is safe and appropriate to do so. Keeping Women Safe in their Homes | Department of Social Services, Australian Government (dss.gov.au)

Temporary Visa Holders Experiencing Violence Pilot provides financial assistance to people on temporary visas who may be experiencing family and domestic violence and financial hardship. Family and domestic violence financial assistance | Australian Red Cross Emergency Relief to provide one-off assistance to individuals with no or low income or those experiencing other life-changing events. This can include food, transport, clothing, budgeting assistance and utility assistance. Emergency Relief | Department of Social Services, Australian Government (dss.gov.au)

National Debt Helpline provides over the phone Financial Counselling. The 1800 007 007 telephone service provides a single contact point for people to access financial counselling, either immediately on the phone, or via a referral to your closest Financial Counselling service. Welcome Page - National Debt Helpline (ndh.org.au)

Good Shepherd Australia and NZ provides loans up to $2000 for essential goods and services with no fees and no interest.

Victim Assist – provides financial assistance to victims of violence that happened in Queensland - 1300 546 587

NDIS – for people with a disability who are actively receiving support through NDIS, may be able to access a crisis payment, this should be discussed with the client’s support worker

Legal Aid Queensland - 1300 65 11 88

Women’s Legal Service – 1800 957 957, provides free legal and social work help with domestic violence, complex family law and sexual assault notes counselling privilege matters to women and people who live and identify as women in Queensland.

DVConnect Womensline – 24 Hour Domestic Violence Hotline – 1800 811 811

DVConnect Mensline – 9am until Midnight – 1800 600 636

Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800

Emergencies – Police/Ambulance/Fire – 000

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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