We are taught that holidays are a joyous time of the year, but for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, the opposite may hold true. In our small community, it is common that survivors are familiar with their abusers. During Samoan gatherings survivors are forced to decide whether they miss time with loved ones at family gatherings to avoid coming face-to-face with their abuser. It is important for friends, family members, advocates to listen and offer support to survivors, and to know what to say when a loved one shares their story, because it can be overwhelming and frightening at first. When you find yourself in this situation, here are some tips on how to support a loved one who has experienced abuse.
Tips on helping your family or friend:
Listen to their story, and believe….
Survivors can continue to struggle after abuse. Supporting a victim or survivor could be letting them know you are available if they are ready or need to talk to promote healing. One of the biggest fear’s survivors hold is the certainty that their story will not be believed, which may stop them from reaching out for help. Victims may hold feelings of anger, frustration, fear or sadness during the holiday season, and may not know how to express themselves.
In this situation we suggest that the best support you can provide is to “listen”. Many times our natural response is to question survivors, or victims, or provide a litany of ideas of what one should do. When your loved one shares with you about the act of violence, we encourage you to listen. If a family member, or friend is trusting you with their story, the best you can do is listen. The following are words of support:
In our community we know that abuse hides behind a veil of silence. In our family and village settings there are many whispers about changes in appearance, or someone “witnessing” an act of violence. Many times, victims show signs of being uncomfortable in social events, or may seem withdrawn, and they pull away. If you feel a family or friend displays changed behavior, make the time to reach out to them. Abuse creates isolation, and when you reach out this may decrease isolation. But more importantly, if there is no abuse, it’s always lovely to maintain connections with your loved ones.
Recognize the victim knows best….
If you are an advocate, or provide support, remember that we are all experts in our own lives, which means we know what will work best in our own situation. Victims/Survivors of abuse understand how their abuser will react to changes made, or what will happen if they call for help. If helps when they are recognized as the experts in their situation, and we help navigate them through potential options and choices.
Know your resources…
If you are a victim of assault and would like to report the assault, please contact 911 immediately, to get immediate assistance by Department of Public Services, Emergency Medical Services, and referral to Department of Human Social Services. LBJ Tropical Medical Services Emergency Room have physicians who have experience in working with victims of domestic and sexual assault. They have social workers who will provide additional assistance. You can contact the Department of Human Social Services, child care 633-1571, who may provide assistance. You con contact the Alliance at 699-0272 during regular working hours, Monday thru Friday and we connect you with a community advocate.
If you are having difficulty providing support to a victim of abuse, or you are overwhelmed by the stories you are hearing, connect with the Alliance. We are here to provide you support. You are an important person to any victim or survivor of abuse, and we want to make sure you are never alone.