Trinity Song, Guest Contributor

Domestic violence is a learned behaviour whereby psychological and physical coercion are used to assert and maintain control over an intimate partner. Domestic violence does not discriminate – anyone can be a victim regardless of race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or economic status. It is a pervasive problem that has devastating physical, emotional, financial and social effects on the victims, families and communities.

Statistics Canada (2018) indicates that more than 80% of domestic violence goes unreported. Knowing how to identify and respond to domestic violence can be a life changer for victims and their families.

People’s health and safety is every person’s responsibility. We all have roles to play in creating communities and environments that are safe and healthy for everyone. Designated professionals can help individuals once they access supportive services, but they can’t help when those services are not being accessed. If you suspect domestic violence, you can help by addressing what you see and helping the people around you access the services they need.

There are many barriers in our perception of domestic violence and our role in ending in our communities. Let’s explore some common themes:

Dealing with other people’s personal matters is none of my business.

Keeping your community safe is your business. We need everyone to play their role in intervening and preventing domestic violence. Violence is more than just a personal matter when someone’s life may be in danger.

I don’t know what I would say to make things better.

Listening without judgement is a great starting point! Showing that you care and are concerned for their wellbeing. We don’t need to have all the solutions – we do need to demonstrate empathy. Being available to the individual who wants to talk is a simple way you can make a difference.

To learn more about helpful ways to respond, check out the launched this Family Violence Prevention Month to promote the #keepitREAL campaign. #keepitREAL teaches people how to support someone who is experiencing domestic violence. Since 80% of survivors look for support from friends and family, growing the skills and confidence as informal supporters is one of the best ways to promote healing and prevention.

They would ask for help if they wanted it and they could always leave the relationship. They keep going back.

We may never know why someone is staying in a relationship that is harmful, but we don’t need to have that information in order to help. Sometimes people who experience abuse may be too afraid or ashamed to ask for help, let alone leave. They may not feel they have the support or options that would enable them security- especially if that person is a caregiver for children or others. Barriers like finances, shame, language, unemployment, or lack of community keep victims feeling “stuck” in an abusive relationship.

They’re both people I care about—it’s a private matter between them and I don’t want to complicate things.

Regardless of how we know the relationship, one person is being abusive and the other lives in fear. It’s no longer a private matter when someone’s safety and health is threatened. Intervening in abusive behaviours is not “complicating” matters, it is simply doing the right thing.

What if I’m wrong and nothing is going on? They’re going to be offended that I thought they were in danger.

If the person you are concerned about is not experiencing violence, they may become upset. It is better to apologize and show that their well-being is important to you than to do nothing at all. Should they ever experience an abusive relationship, they will remember that you care and are a safe person to reach out to.

I’m afraid that getting involved will endanger myself or my family.

It’s important to speak to the person experiencing abuse in confidence and in a safe environment. This is a sensitive subject and addressing your concerns should be done when you know that it is safe for them to do so. Let authorities know if you receive any threats from the abusive partner.

Domestic violence is caused by poverty or lack of education.

False. Domestic violence is common throughout all levels of society, whether rich/poor, educated/uneducated, rural/urban. Studies consistently find that violence occurs among all types of families, regardless of income, profession, religion, ethnicity, or educational level. Violence does not happen because of poverty or a lack of education; it is rooted in the historically unequal power relationship between men and women.

Domestic violence is a private issue.

False. It is important for abusers to receive the message from the community that domestic violence will not be tolerated.