It is helpful to remember that:
- There is no cultural, social, economic or religious reason which can justify domestic crime. Thus, it is unacceptable in any situation.
- Domestic violence is very common in Pakistan. 70-90% of Pakistani women are subjected to domestic violence (Human Rights Watch 2009).
- Domestic violence is very dangerous to the physical and the psychological well being of the victim.
- The abuser is solely responsible for his abusive behavior. The woman is not to blame; violence is a choice he makes.
What might an abused woman be feeling and experiencing?
An abused woman is often overwhelmed by fear, which can govern her every move – a fear of: further violence, the unknown, her safety and the safety of her children — do not underestimate the effects of the fear.
In a conservative society like mainstream Pakistani society, it is considered disgraceful for the family if there are any issues between a couple, or between a woman and her in-laws. Many times she is blamed for failing to do her duty, and suffering the punishment for that “negligence”. Thus, many abused women feel helpless because they do not want to invite that disgrace to their families.
She may experience a conflict of emotions. She may love her partner, but hate the violence. She may live in hope that his good side will reappear.
She may be dependent upon her partner; emotionally and financially. In Pakistani society, usually women have two sources of support: parents and husband. If her husband is abusive and her family is not responsive, then the woman might feel truly helpless.
She may experience feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment.
She may feel resigned and hopeless and find it hard to make decisions about her future.
So what can you do to support her
- Talk to her and help her open up. You may have to try several times before she would confide in you. Listening is crucial to the process. Many times, the ability to talk to someone about an issue helps the victim. She can hear herself aloud, and think more about the issue. Moreover, knowing that someone cares about one, can also be very helpful for the victim.
- Try to be direct and start by saying something like, “I’m worried about you because …” or “I’m concerned about your safety…”
- Do not judge her.
- Listen to her and believe what she tells you – too often people do not believe a woman when she first discloses abuse. Even if you disagree with her, understanding her situation is of foremost importance, rather than expressing yourself.
- Reassure her that the abuse is not her fault and that you are there for her.
- Don’t tell her to leave or criticize her for staying. Although you may want her to leave, she has to make that decision in her own time. It is important to remember that research shows an abused woman is at most risk at the point of separation and immediately after leaving an abusive partner. Moreover, every person is different, do not assume a commanding posture. It is important to help her, but the most important thing is to listen to her.
- Leaving takes a great deal of strength and courage. An abused woman often faces huge obstacles such as nowhere to go, no money and no one to turn to for support
- Focus on supporting her and building her self-confidence.
- Acknowledge her strengths and frequently remind her that she is coping well with a challenging and stressful situation.
- An abused woman is often very isolated and has no meaningful support – help her to develop or to keep up her outside contacts. This can help to boost her self-esteem.
- If she has not spoken to anyone else, encourage her to seek the help of a local domestic violence agency that understands what she is going through and offers specialist support and advice. If the victim has other friends, who can help her out but she is unwilling to take help from them, then encourage her to open up to them. As the specialist agencies are scarce in Pakistan, the society is supposed to support its members. Many times, women do not even confide in their parents because they fear their reaction, and they fear the breakup of their household.
- Be patient. It can take time for a woman to recognize she is being abused and even longer to be able to take safe and permanent decisions about what to do. Recognizing the problem is an important first step.
Helping a woman and her children to keep safe.
- A woman’s safety and the safety of her children is paramount.
- Always remember that she understands her own situation the best. She knows her husband, his family and the possible outcomes to her actions. Thus, never disregard the perspective of the victim.
- Help her to stay safe:
- Agree on a code word, sentence or action that is only known to you both so she can signal when she is in danger and cannot access help herself. It should be something very common which cannot be interpreted by people around her.
- Don’t make plans for her yourself, but encourage her to think about her safety more closely and focus on her own needs rather than his.
- Find out information about local services for her; offer to keep a spare set of keys or important documents such as passports, benefit books, in a safe place for her so that she can access them quickly in an emergency.
- Encourage her to think of ways she can increase the safety of her children. Domestic violence and child abuse is also linked. The husband might start by abusing either the children or the woman but once he considers it acceptable to beat his family members, he would not have any limits in his mind. Thus, it is important to encourage her to think about actions that would ensure the safety of herself and her children.
How to give hope to the victims, and encourage action without alienating them?
- You must never make the victim feel she is at fault for not taking action. A victim of domestic violence would already be feeling extremely under-confident, violated and guilty. Thus, she does not need the extra guilt of not acting. Such actions might even force her to hide further domestic violence from you.
- Help the victim discover her strengths, and explore ways for her to nourish those strengths. It is important to tell the victim how brave she is for facing such situation with such courage.
- Help her to think aloud. Many times thinking aloud would help the victim discover new possibilities.
- Domestic violence is a complicated and difficult issue. You must be a friend to the victim as well. This means that domestic violence should not be the only thing you talk to her about. Try to do activities that make her forget her situation and smile for a while. Depression can be a very serious risk for the victim. Thus, helping the victim does not mean reminding her all the time of her agonies. Instead, reminding the victim of her strengths and helping her have a good time are also important.