Tracy Chapman’s song Behind the Wall was the metaphor I used in Stepping Out From Behind The Wall: Acknowledging Male Privilege and It’s Connection to Violence Against Women. Chapman sings of hearing a female neighbour being assaulted by their male partner, not being able to sleep because of it, and the police doing nothing about it until it was too late.
How many times have we been in that situation, or one similar?
Most people follow the ‘Mind Your Own Business’ philosophy and then feel like shit when their neighbour is brutally assaulted or killed. I’ve seen it on the news countless times:
“We all knew what was happening. I wish I had said something. I wish I had called the police,” says a neigbour.
By no means am I saying the cops are the answer! I’m also not advising not calling the cops.
I also don’t ascribe to the ‘Mind Your Own Business’ philosophy that most men do. I had knives pulled on me after stepping in to support a woman who was being verbally and physically assaulted outside of a club. Thankfully, I’m still here.
We all deal with things differently. And there are many things you can do to support someone who is being abused.
I’m in a situation, again, where someone I know is being abused. Hence this article. I’ll get into it after my history with the subject.
I’m coming to this page with experience matched with humility. I don’t know all the answers. I also recognize that I’m part of the gender (cis-gendered men) that are responsible for most of the violence in this world.
The first time a friend shared their experience of surviving sexual assault I was 14. It was grade 9 and we were sitting outside skipping class. She told me that it was her best friend, a guy, who assaulted her; I’ve heard more stories about ‘best friends’ since.
My way of supporting people who’ve survived different forms of abuse is to listen to them.
Not hear them, listen to them. There is a difference.
When I was 19 a dear friend at the time came to me with her story of surviving sexual assault. She was a year younger, and I supported her the way I knew how: to listen. We had many conversations on the phone and in person; positive, for the most part one sided, conversations for hours. Listening helped but she needed more and I was not qualified to give her more. So, I accompanied her to counseling sessions at her request.
I haven’t been to counseling with anyone else, but sadly there have been more women that have confided in me regarding different forms of abuse, primarily sexual assault.
Just to be clear, it’s not only women that have shared their stories with me. Men are assaulted too; they just don’t talk about it as much. A few men, survivors of the residential school system, have shared their stories with me, as did someone I hung with for years in my late teens.
Again, I listened.
Listening is great but there is more that you can do. And some people need and want more than someone to listen to them.
Here are some tips (not in order) I’ve gotten from various sources on the internet:
1. Believe them.
2. Listen intently for as long as they need.
3. Assure them it’s not their fault.
4. Remind them that they’re not alone.
5. Only give advice if you are trained to do so.
6. Respect their privacy. Let them share their experience with who they want, if they want.
7. Do not confront their partner.
8. Let your concern and love for them guide your support and talks, not your anger toward their abuser.
9. Maintain contact.
10. Provide resources that can help them.
11. Keep the promises you make.
12. Be prepared to lose a friend (being cut off, shut out, and ignored)
My experience with supporting people being abused has seen them always approach me. That doesn’t always happen. In times like this experts say to confront your friend in a loving and non-judgmental way.
Again, don’t confront their partner.
I’m in different territory now.
All the people who have confided in me before are still in my life or have drifted away in a good way, and might come back.
Recently, someone who I considered a friend, and who I have done what I know how to do, listen, has cut me off because their abusive partner sees me as a threat.
Over the last two years I’ve listened, referred this person to Deb Sing (someone I know, trust, respect, and recommend if you’re in Toronto) and been supportive as best I know how.
I’m used to people who date my friends being jealous of me. I could care less.
This new incident has seen things happen that I’m not used to: the abuser has tried to start a fight with me, sent indirect negative comments my way, and prohibited their partner from communicating with me.
The abused person has moved in with their abuser, is accompanied by them at all times (even entire shifts at their workplace), has had their pet killed by the abuser, and the abuser is banned from entering the partners family home.
Shit is real!
Maybe some of you are in a similar position.
This is what I have come up with:
Be patient and hopeful
Don’t give up on them and don’t see the worst as the only outcome. Time is all we have. Maybe they’ll come around. Hope is better than despair.
Don’t take it personal
Even though you’ve done all you can and not seen the result you hope for it has nothing to do with you. If they’ve cut you off it’s a reflection of where they are at, not a reflection of you.
Don’t cut them off
This isn’t a game. This is real. If you are a friend be loving and empathetic. Cutting them off isn’t going to help matters. You can maintain your distance in a good way. But don’t cut them off.
Don’t quantify things
Don’t keep track of what you have done for them. It’s easy to get into the mode of seeing them as ungrateful. They probably really appreciate all you’ve done for them. They’re just in a bad place.
If they come to you have an open door
Let them come to you and accept them. They already feel bad and don’t need a friend to shut them out. They probably have few, or little, people to go to.
If you see yourself as an ally then remember what being an ally is about
I got into a negative and pissed off mode at first. Then I remembered, “I’m an ally.” I’m an ally to different peoples and this person is one of them. Ally’s don’t bail, they stand beside you or behind you.
Act positively every time you see them.
I still see this person from time to time and I remain polite and positive. It feels weird, we pretend that nothing has happened or changed, but it’s the best thing to do right now. I also think of positive energy going in their direction.
If you’re a spiritual person then practice your spirituality
I believe in Creator and I engage in prayer and different forms of meditation. I don’t only pray for the abused I also pray for the abuser. The abuser is an abuser because of past abuse they’ve experienced.
Remember that they are in a bad place
It’s normal to feel upset and sad and frustrated. The thing to remember is that they are in a bad place. They are not well. Keeping this in mind will help their healing and the stress you might be feeling.
Don’t try to be a rescuer
You can’t rescue someone in this situation. It’s not a fire. You’re not going to run in to their home and carry them to safety. I remember hearing something key in a healing circle: “Rescuers in the end need to be rescued.”
Step out from behind the wall. Be active in a positive and loving way. Be an ally. Be a friend.
For those who are concerned, the abuser does not read this website.