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Helpful and NOT Helpful Things to Say to Survivors
25th Oct


Helpful and NOT Helpful Things to Say to Survivors


As we head towards the end of Domestic Violence Prevention Month, the new focus from awareness to  prevention was inspired by interviews from survivors in the Re-Centering Report compiled by the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV.)

The report presents revealing quotes from survivors on what were helpful responses to their situation. And maybe more importantly, what were not. Categories include friends and family, and people they work and worship with. If you have not walked in the shoes of a domestic violence survivor, these will be enlightening.

FRIENDS & FAMILY: Helpful Responses

Emotional Support

  • “Having someone to listen and to hear it over and over. I knew what they were going to say, I just needed to hear it again.”
  • “I think the biggest thing for both of them is that I did not feel very strong or capable and they held me . . . Like, they knew that I could do it. And I didn’t know I could do it.”

Material Support/Temporary Housing, etc.

  • “My friends helped me move all of my things out. They gave me a place to stay, food, time to find a job, a place to vent my emotions, patience, and general support.”
  • “I lived with her for a while.  So, I get on my feet and for my face to clear, because I could not go and look for a job.  My face was really, really black and blue . . . And she’s very supportive, she didn’t bother me, and she would let me lay down, because I needed to just breathe.”

Held Abuser Accountable

  • “One of his best friends seen him come at behind me and slammed my ears like this when I have the baby in my arms, our six-week-old baby, you know. And I was lying over on the couch after I handed the woman, my baby, and his best friend went in there with him in the kitchen and he said, ‘I don’t know what you did that for, you got one of the best wives there is.’ he said, ‘There’s no excuse for that.’”
FRIENDS & FAMILY: Unhelpful Responses

Judgement/Lack of Understanding

  • “But as far as like friends and family, there’s still such a stigma about domestic violence. I had a lot of people say, ‘Well, you’re smarter than that. Why did you get caught up in that?”
  • “I only had one friend that I felt comfortable enough [to tell], and she didn’t understand the cycle of abuse. The first time I called her, she came and rescued me, if you will, and . . . we talked and, of course, with the cycle, he’s, ‘I’m sorry, this will never happen again and blah, blah, blah.’ And I was in love. And so you go back, and then she was like, ‘Well, if this happens again, don’t call me.’”

Pressure to Leave/Not Return

  • “I know my family stopped talking to me, because I would never leave. And they got tired of hearing it.  I got another black eye today, I have to cover it up.  I got to go to work.  I don’t want to hear it.  You’re not going to leave, so don’t call me.  And that’s your family.  But they don’t understand.”
  • “My family, but they didn’t really understand. They just thought that you can just walk away and that you’re being stupid if you keep going back.”

Pressure to Stay

  • “Because of my family pressure, I went back.”
  • “When I was leaving, I had to block his family because they were contacting me on social media talking about how I was ruining their son’s life. Everything I was doing was wrong.”

Didn’t Believe

  • “And his mom, somehow, she knew where I was. Got a hold of me at the shelter and called me and said that she talked to him and that he said that I made everything up that he didn’t really hurt me. And I think to this day, she still would like to believe that I’ve made it all up.”

Disparaging the Abuser

  • “What I found never helpful was when somebody tried to attack the person that was abusing me. I already know that he’s a crappy person.”
IN THE WORKPLACE: Helpful Responses
  • “I think making people aware of what’s going on. I know some people don’t talk about it. I work in a small office and so, anybody knew that if he came in, to shut the doors and to let me know he was there, you know what I mean?”
  • “There was two girls had an apartment together and if they hadn’t said, ‘Hey, come live with us.’ No, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten out of there or not because at the time, I didn’t know that there was any people who could help. I didn’t feel ashamed with them.”
FAITH COMMUNITY: Helpful Responses

Non-judgmental Support

  • “I called my Pastor.  Back to the first meeting when I had told her what was going on, she said, ‘Do you want to leave right now?  I’ll take you right now.  If you want to go, If not, that’s fine.  If you want to go later, if you want to stay, that’s fine, I’ll support you.’ I called her up and I said, ‘I need to go right now before he gets home from work.’ She came and got me and brought me here.  Then she sent me a card from the elders of the church that had signed it, ‘We’re praying for you.’”
  • “The minister from the local church was also there from the very beginning. She wasn’t there to give me advice. She was there for me to vent to.  Even when we tried to make it work, we tried to get back together, she didn’t judge me. If I asked her, ‘What do you think?’ she would stay pretty neutral. Unless it was a situation where it would be in danger, she’d say, ‘Well, that’s not a good idea.’ So, when I would be thinking through that – should I go back, should I not go back – I knew that I could say that to her and just get that out that I was thinking that because that’s not something you want to tell somebody else, like thinking about going back and then they’re mad.”

Getting Strength From Faith

  • “I went to my church just to have prayer. I am very spiritual. Everything I lean on when it comes to stress and pain and anything, I’m like, let me pray about it or let me go to the church for a safe place to release. But I leaned on my church and I feel like that was, depending on your level of engagement with your church, that is very beneficial to help get through things.”
FAITH COMMUNITY: Unhelpful Responses


  • “I think, for the most part, Christians don’t want to see that. They’re very resistant to it. They want there to be reconciliation.  Instead of providing — they don’t really provide any services other than counseling.  Even the church that I received Kroger gift cards from, they try to encourage me to come in for counseling.  They don’t know anything about my situation.  I’ve already had church counseling, local counseling.  This is not my problem.  I’m not an abuser.  He is.”
  • “I tried when I was at church, I told the counselor that I was abused by my father for seven years. And he just said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad.’ And that was the end of it. That was too bad.”

Pressure to Maintain the Relationship

  • “For me, a lot of it was just the way that I was raised in the church. The church that I went to never talked about it and divorce was not acceptable and that’s how I was raised. So never having that viewpoint and then never having any of my youth pastors or pastors ever talk about that (divorce)  and seeing people who were divorced looked down on, made me stay longer than I should have. And then having that mind-set of this can’t happen to me, I wish I would have been talked to more about it and that the reality of this happens to people. That conversation should have been happening when I was growing up.”

Judgement/Lack of Understanding

  • “Unfortunately in a lot of Christian based faiths, what I learned after all these years . . . is that they really just don’t know domestic violence like the professionals do. You know so when you’re working within a religion, you know, it’s unity, it’s forgiveness, it’s ‘be submissive to your husband.’ So what they don’t understand is that domestic violence is not primarily a spiritual problem because you can know God and love God. It’s a psychological one.”
  • “Well, I reached out to my church first. They were supportive in some ways.  But unfortunately, they lack some of the understanding and education that comes with a domestic violence victim.  They were doing their best.  But at times, I would just feel even more confused, because they would tell me, ‘do this, do that. ‘ As a person who’s already down and out, and already feeling controlled, you just have a really hard time making decisions and standing up for yourself.  That wasn’t the best.  I think we could educate that group about empowering, things like that, tactics, or approach. They’re just doing their best, trying to help. “

We hope this peek behind the curtain, through voices of actual survivors here in Indiana, is helpful to gain understanding of the problem. Thank you to the survivors who participated in the report – they are helping all of us in becoming a more effective part of the solution.

COpen Houseonsider attending our Open House, Nov. 8, 2019, 8am – 8pm. Survivors will not be available to talk to, but you’ll gain an understanding about the services we provide. More info on the Open House at HERE.

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