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Do’s and Don’ts for Working with Survivors of Domestic Abuse


DO reassure her that this is not her fault and she doesn’t deserve this treatment. What to say
• DO give her referral information
• DO support and respect her choices. Even if she is aware of the risks and chooses to return to the abuser, it is her choice. She has the most information about how to survive.
• DO encourage her to think about a safety plan
• DO protect her confidentiality.
• DO help her with any religious concerns. If she is Christian, give her a copy of “Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse”. If she is Jewish give her “Shalom Bayit: A Jewish Response to Child Abuse and Domestic Violence:. If she is Muslim give her “Ending Domestic Violence in Muslim Families” by Sharifa Alkhateeb. Refer to www.faithtrustinstitute.org for helpful information.
• DO assure her of a high power’s love and presence and of your commitment to help her through this difficult time.
• DO help her see that her partner’s violence has broken the marriage and that The Supreme Being does not want her to remain in a situation where her life and the lives of her children are in danger.
• If she decides to separate and divorce, DO support her and help her to mourn the loss of the relationship.
• DO pray with her. Ask to give her the strength and courage she needs.
• DO consult with colleagues in the wider community who may have expertise and be able to assist you in your response. Refer to www.faithtrustinstitute.org for resources.

• DON’T minimize the danger to her. You can be a reality check. “From what you have told me, I am very much concerned for your safety . . .”
• DON’T tell her what to do; this can re-victimize her. Give information and support.
• DON’T react with disbelief, disgust, or anger at what she tells you. But don’t react passively, either. Let her know that you are concerned and that what the abuser has done to her and assure her that it is wrong and she did not deserve it.
• DON’T give information about her or her whereabouts to the abuser or to others who might pass information on to the abuser.
• DON’T add her name to a prayer chain for any reason.
• DON’T blame her for his violence. If she is blaming herself, try to reframe: “It doesn’t matter if you did have supper late or forgot to water the lawn, that is no reason for him to be violent with you. This is his problem.”
• DON’T recommend couples' counseling or approach her husband and ask for “his side of the story.” These actions will endanger her.
• DON’T recommend “marriage enrichment,” “mediation,” or a “communications workshop.”  These put her at further risk.
• DON’T send her home with just a prayer and directive to submit to her husband.
• DON’T encourage her to forgive him and take him back.
• DO NOT encourage her dependence on you or become emotionally or sexually involved with her.
• DON’T do nothing.

Things That You Should Say to a Survivor of Domestic Violence

  1. You don’t deserve to be treated like that.
  2. You deserve to feel safe in your home/neighborhood.
  3. What do you want to do?
  4. What would be helpful today?
  5. Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me what’s going on for your family.
  6. It is not your fault.
  7. There is nothing you did to “make” him/her hit you.
  8. There’s help available.
  9. It takes a lot of courage to talk about this.
  10. It must be a full time job to keep yourself and your children safe.

Things you might think, but SHOULD NOT say to a victim of domestic violence!

  1. You should leave him/her.

Empower her!  Most likely her husband has been telling her what to do—don’t fall into the same trap.  Also, leaving is the most dangerous time for a victim. Leaving is not just about packing a bag. Safety is the number one concern.

  1. What about your children?

Many women/men are aware that their children are witnessing the violence in the home. At times this might be what motivates them to make a change. But on the other hand, this question could make them feel even worse about not being able to protect their children. You are also blaming the victim. It’s okay to inquire, but phrase it carefully.

  1. Let’s get you into a shelter.

Women in domestic violence relationships do not need to be told what to do. Trust in her that she is the expert in her own life. Ask her if she wants to go into shelter- don’t ever assume. Our hope is that she will learn to trust her decision-making capability again. She probably hasn’t made decisions for herself in a long time.  *There are no domestic violence shelters for men in the Philadelphia area.

  1. At least it’s not physical.

What we have heard time and time again from women/men is that the scars heal but it is the emotional/verbal abuse that is never forgotten. Also, don’t assume that because it’s not physical it’s not serious.

  1. You’re stronger than that.

This is not about strength, it’s about power and control.

  1. Why don’t you just divorce him?

Take into consideration cultural, religious, and financial backgrounds. Divorce may not be an option. Or it may mean a lot more than just signing a piece of paper. He or she may be kicked out of their faith/family. Also, it may not seem financially feasible for her to be out on her own.

  1. I would leave if I were you.

Don’t ever assume that. None of these women thought they would be in this situation either.

  1. I can’t believe you went back to him.

Keep supporting this person. Come back to the thought that she/he knows her/his life better than you do and knows when the time is right.

  1. Why is he/she like this? What are you doing that makes him/her so angry

The one absolute in this is that you can’t control the abuser’s behavior. It is not the victim’s fault that he is acting like this.

  1. Women/men who get into these relationships are so helpless.

They are not helpless. They just need some support for the decisions they want to make. Give survivors a chance to make their own decisions.


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