“What will happen to my family?”
By Valencia Ng, Social Worker
As a social worker working with individuals and families who had experienced family violence, this is a common question that family members ask themselves when they are faced with the dilemma of whether to disclose and share about their experience of abuse perpetrated by their loved ones.
Barriers To Reporting
Often, victims of family violence are worried about the potential legal consequences that disclosure will have on their loved one, which could be a real concern if their loved one is the sole breadwinner of the family. Victims may also fear losing the relationship with their loved one and other family members who may blamed them for breaking the family apart or destroying the family image. There were also instances when victims were labelled as “heartless” and “evil” when they decided to break the silence on the abuse that they had endured and risked being further re-victimized.
For many victims, formal reporting is always the last resort. Family relationships are important to them, and it takes immense courage to share about the conflicts and abuse that may be happening at home. In fact, victims may be more worried about what could possibly happen to their loved ones more than how they can increase their own safety. Hence, it’s important to understand how the victim perceive their current situation and align their goals for their family with any help seeking interventions such as police reporting.
Signs of Abuse
While physical violence is the most visible sign of abuse, the impact of abuse is often invisible. Signs of abuse include:
Physical such as punching, slapping, and throwing of objects
Emotional such as consistently putting someone down and using demeaning words to label someone
Psychological such as threatening to kill others and/or self, stalking and manipulating a person’s perception of reality
Sexual such as inappropriate touching and forced sex
Financial such as forcing a dependent person to beg for financial resources and gaining access to a person’s financial resources through undue influence and/or manipulation
Neglect such as withdrawal of resources that a person requires for his/her care needs and failure to fulfil caregiving obligation and responsibilities
What You Can Do
As an individual, it can be daunting, heartbreaking and even painful when someone such as a neighbor, friend or family member disclosed incidents of abuse to you. You may also be unsure if you should intervene in the family issues of others and worried about the potential repercussion on yourself. However, chances are, you may be the key to bridge someone in need to the resources that will help them towards breakthrough and recovery.
If someone had shared incidents of abuse with you, you could consider the following to prepare them emotionally and mentally to seek formal support:
Acknowledge the victim’s concerns
Assure them that the abuse was not their fault
Believe in the victim’s account
Often the fear of being dismissed, especially when there is no physical evidence, deters the victim from disclosing abuse. Hence, it’s helpful to validate their experiences and refrain from immediate problem solving
Connect them to relevant helplines and social services
If possible, offer to accompany the victim to make the report or contact the helpline.
Discuss and weigh the different options with them
Abuse often robs a person’s sense of agency. Hence, it’s important to return the sense of control to the victim by pacing with their readiness.
Encourage them to seek help
While safety is the priority, relationship issues can be tricky and complicated. Gently share your worries and concerns for the victim and their family, and any visible impacts that you had observed such as significant and/or recent changes to behaviors, routines etc. to increase the victim’s sense of urgency to seek help.
Lastly, family violence is both an individual and societal issue because it ruins relationships that weave the social fabric of our society. We can own the issue together by keeping a lookout for our family and friends, connecting them to the relevant resources and services and fostering closer collaboration across communities, schools, and organizations.
If you or someone you know experiences abuse, family violence-related matters or neglect, call the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline (NAVH) at 1800-777-0000.