Violence comes in many forms. We see it everyday on the news, or hear about it from friends, family, or colleagues. But what can we do if someone confides in us?
It can be difficult to grasp the reality and severity of violence that someone has experienced, and hard to grapple with uncertainty about how best to support survivors. If you have the opportunity to offer support, it is important to make sure you are equipped to do so.
Today, on the 9th Anniversary of the Yezidi Genocide, SEED acknowledges the severe trauma and violence thousands of women, children, and men experienced at the hands of ISIS, and expresses its deep concern at the lack of resources and support available to enable their recovery. While these tips are applicable to all survivors of violence, we recognize that these tips alone are not sufficient, and that real commitment and investment is required of institutional actors to adequately meet the critical needs of survivors of ISIS. This is just a start: a guide for those who want to support individuals around them when faced with violence.
Mental health and psychosocial support specialist, Anne Lepelaars, shares nine ways you can support survivors of violence.
- Get informed and raise awareness
Become more aware and informed about different types of violence. Did you know that online harassment and abuse is a form of violence that can cause serious harm and psychological trauma?
By learning more about the negative impacts that may arise from the actions of others, you can help open up conversations. Read news articles and talk to people around you. Equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible to better understand the context, encourage others to seek information, help survivors speak up, or be a voice for them if asked.
- Show that you can be trusted
Create a space where the survivor knows that they are safe talking to you, and that what they tell you is confidential. Help them see that they can rely on you. In order to support them, you need to build trust.
- Hold space
Listen fully and try not to bring your own experiences, opinions, or judgements into the discussion when supporting survivors of violence. Let them know what happened to them should have never happened and you are there to listen and support them if they wish.
- Believe them
Survivors of violence are unfortunately questioned a lot. It’s not up to us to question the details, accuracy, or rationale about why the violence occurred. Validate how they are feeling and reassure them that you trust them fully in how they choose to express and share their experience with you. Show them that you empathize with them and that you connect with them.
- Say no to victim blaming
Survivors of violence can be blamed for the wrongful act that has been committed against them. What happened to them was the conscious decision of the perpetrator. It is important to acknowledge and reinforce that violence is never the victim’s fault. They survived and should always be spoken about in a dignifying way.
- Respect survivors’ choices
Let the survivor drive the way forward. Ask them if they want support or help in contacting a non-governmental organization (NGO), a health professional, a specialized hotline, or the police. Always respect what they wish or do not wish to do. Respect their path and do not judge their choice. If they are not sure what to do, you can advise them to contact professionals, including NGOs like SEED. Make sure you connect them to service providers who are safe and trusted.
- Challenge the beliefs surrounding survivors of violence
Violence has become a norm in society, but it should not be. How violence is thought of and perceived needs to change. Challenge your biases around who the perpetrator is and who can be a survivor of violence. As we support women, for example, we should also acknowledge that men and boys can be victims of violence who need our support. Violence can unfortunately happen to anyone.
- Know your limits
There is a point at which you may need to acknowledge that the person you are supporting should reach out for professional help. It can become unsafe for both of you if you continue to support when you don’t have the capacity to do so. Be a friend, and link them to a professional when more help is needed. Gather resources like helplines or details of local non-profits where a survivor can get the support they need from trained professionals. There are free online support networks as well.
- Support the work of local non-profits
There are many local, non-profit organizations that support survivors of violence across the region and the world. Reach out to them to see how you can get involved, whether by giving your time or making a donation.
If you or someone you know has or is experiencing violence or is at-risk in Kurdistan, you can contact SEED’s referral team for support: 0751 741 6391 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: these are generalized tips to approaching this. If you wish to dive more into support please reach out to us at https://www.seedkurdistan.org/contact/
We have chosen the number nine in remembrance of nine years since thousands of Yezidi women and girls were violently abducted and subjected to sexual violence by members of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). On the day of launching this article, August 3rd, we commemorate the day of remembrance for the genocide committed against the Yezidi community. Read our statement here