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Understanding the reasons why a woman may stay with, or return to, her abuser is critical in being able to offer support. Those who work with survivors of IPV focus on having empathy and being trauma-informed.
A trauma-informed practice:
- Recognizes trauma has varied, and devastating, short and long-term effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD, hypervigilance, anxiety, depression, emotional dysregulation, and memory loss, and incorporates that framework into all interactions.
- Emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for the survivor above all else.
- Creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild their sense of control, personal agency, and empowerment, all of which suffer in the midst of an abusive relationship.
- Meets women where they are at, suspending personal judgment and supporting the survivor rather than telling her what she “should” or “needs” to do. Whether this is the first, or fifth time, she’s left her abusive partner (research shows it takes on average seven times leaving to leave for good), the support offered must be constant.
Women who receive positive responses:
- Tend to recover more quickly
- Are more likely to work with authorities
- Are more likely to report future instances of violence
- Are more likely to access safety supports
Women who receive negative responses:
- Are less likely to cooperate with authorities
- Are less likely to disclose again
- Are more likely to receive mental health diagnosis
- Are less likely to seek out protective supports
Here are some ideas on how to take a trauma-informed approach when interacting with a survivor:
- Acknowledge and name the violence.
- Be clear the abuser is at fault.
- Honour the survivor’s resistance.
- Challenge victim-blaming messages.
- Let her judge her choices.
- Listen and support.
Language matters, particularly when interacting with survivors of violence and abuse.
Recognize that a concussion can result in mental health symptoms, including:
- Worries and fears.
- Trouble controlling emotions or reactions.
- Nervousness or panic attacks.
- Anger or rage.
Here are some ideas on what to say to a survivor:
- “You didn’t deserve this. It’s not your fault.”
- “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
- “I’m concerned about you.”
- “How can I help?”
- “It sounds like you’re doing the best you can.”
- “I’m here to listen.”
What NOT to say to a survivor:
- “You should leave him.”
- “Why haven’t you left him?”
- “You have to call the police.”
- “You should go to marriage counselling.”
- “Why didn’t you go to the hospital?”
- “Maybe you’re over-reacting.”
- “I always thought he was such a great guy.”
Educating yourself on the dynamics of abuse and coercive control, and becoming familiar with the resources in your community, will also help you be a more effective ally and support to survivors who may otherwise not know where to turn. Women’s Shelters Canada has more information.
Learn more about how to support survivors of IPV and recognize brain injury in the CATT course for Women’s Support Workers.