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Sexual assault, domestic violence and psychological abuse have a lasting impact. How can we help someone deal with trauma after violence? Ways to help a friend heal and recover.
By Aanandika Sood
Figures show that today, worldwide, 1 in 3 women have been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her.
Though there is no single cause behind the onset of violence and continuation especially of domestic violence, there are certain factors in the abuser which have been identified as risk factors for committing violence, says Dr Nilanjana Paul, a renowned psychiatrist. Dr Paul says that a vast majority of perpetrators are found to have personality disorders and may have antisocial traits. She has also seen many cases where domestic violence can be attributed to socio-cultural influences where violence against women or even the threat of violence has been thought to represent male attempts to control female reproduction and ensure sexual exclusivity for himself.
The first step is to be aware that violence, especially domestic violence, is ubiquitous and happens to people like you and me. An abused individual may give hints of unhappiness at home and when probed, come out with truths of domestic violence. There are incidents when family members or friends may actually disbelieve whatever she narrates.
Abused women frequently keep mum due to embarrassment, long-term psychological effects, or if she she is dependent on the perpetrator financially and emotionally.
Evidence of injuries without adequate explanation is the first sign of someone having gone through violence.
Being subjected to any kind of violence may lead to irreversible psychological trauma, cause psychiatric disorders leading to even suicide. Worse, it actually leads to continuation of the ‘culture of violence’ – individuals who face violence become aggressive in the long run, informs Dr Paul. It may have a lasting effect on the personality and development of children who also face and witness the violence, she adds.
There are two distinct occasions when someone needs help. One could be just following a bad episode of violence when she may be extremely distressed and in physical pain. Second is when she decides to open up about ongoing violence which might be some time after any incident of violence directed at her. Supportive measures include allowing your friend or dear one to vent out and speak the incident. Here are some more ways to help:
At such fragile times, not just a friend, but any woman, might just need a sympathetic ear to pour her woes to and a shoulder to lean on. Tell her that you can only try to understand her situation. You may need to constantly remind her that she is ‘NOT responsible for the violence’ even though the perpetrator may have been trying to place the blame on her all along.
Reminding her that ‘You have been managing your home/school/office/children so efficiently despite your problems. You are an educated lady. You will be able to get out of this’ will give a much-required boost to your friend’s morale as she is bound to suffer from low self-esteem.
Tell your friend that ‘You have friends and family members who can be of help’ goes a long way in providing assurance to someone who might be going through the trauma of being physically abused and emotionally scarred. Making her realise that she is not alone in this is very important. If your friend knows that she has a support structure to lean on, she will be able to find strength and her way out of this problem. Emphasise ‘I am available for you’ and tell her that ‘NO ONE has a right to insult you – whoever he is’. Enlist the support of other family members, friends and neighbours, who continue to act as informal sources of support and protection even after she is removed from the abusive situation, as some scars will heal with time while others might take a while longer.
In case of physical injury, you must accompany her to the hospital’s medical emergency. Ask the examining physician to note all injuries. Ask your friend not to hide anything as she is not the one who needs to feel ashamed.
If there is even a remote chance that a friend might face physical abuse or violence of any sort, there should be a plan in place for her to exit unharmed from the situation or relationship. Make a list of all the people she can call in case an emergency arises. You can help her prepare a small bag with essentials like some cash, clothes, important certificates, bank books and other important documents.
A victim needs to know that abusers are usually persons with inherent low self-esteem and may desist from resorting to physical violence if she speaks up for herself. Helping your friend to learn to say a firm NO from a reliable and trained source can often be helpful.
Try and find out everything possible that would help her take decisions on the course of action to follow. What legal action is required? In case of domestic violence whom can she get in touch with if she needs advice on marriage – a counsellor, a psychiatrist? In fact it is a good idea to help her reach out to a professional who would be able to help her sort out the whirlwind of emotions she might be going through and clearly see the path ahead.
If your friend decides to stay on despite continuous violence, you might find it difficult to support her. In such a case, be willing to confront her with the dangers this poses to not just herself but also to the children if there are kids involved as well. Help your friend come face to face with the dangers – physical and emotional – of living in an abusive relationship.
The effects of abuse are deep, affecting the psyche of a person, and your friend will benefit from professional psychological counselling. Is your friend having difficulty functioning at home or office since she has had a violent encounter of any sort? Is she unable to sleep or rest properly? Is she suddenly indulging in alcohol or consuming more than is usual? All of these indicate that she needs professional intervention.
Today, in almost every part of the country there are organisations which extend a helping hand to women facing violence. There are lists of helplines available online for major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and a pan-India directory. Organisations have websites that provide information on domestic violence and violence against women.
Combating violence is not something that can be done alone – neither by the victim, nor her caregivers. It is a group effort that needs the active support of friends, family, neighbours, employers, social networks, media and society at large.
*Photo credit: Bea Serendipity (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Aanandika Sood aspires to be the rolling stone that gathers a lot of moss. After
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