Whether in a professional capacity as an investigator or personally dealing with a friend or family member, speaking with domestic violence victims can be a challenge. There is a level of sensitivity that is required when speaking with a victim and gathering information. It may take time for a victim to trust enough to disclose the information. Even seeking help, a victim is putting their life and the lives of any children at risk. Extra care and support should be provided.

Listen and speak without judgment – The last thing a victim needs when they are finally ready to seek help is judgment about why they have stayed in the relationship so long. There are many factors why someone stays including financial, emotional, fear and often a lack of good options to leave. The scariest and most often deadly time for a victim is after they leave the relationship.

Explore and understand the type of abuse – Understand that domestic violence is different for everyone and many believe that if a victim is not being physically assaulted than its not domestic violence. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Learn and understand the types of domestic violence (financial, emotional, verbal, physical or sexual) and understand that all can be equally traumatic for the victim. More often than not, more than one type of abuse will be present.

Help the victim find the pattern and be their note keeper if necessary – There is not always a discernible patter to when the abuse occurs but on occasion there will be and no one will know this better than the victim. Pay close attention to the timing of incidents. It’s not unusual to hear a victim say that at the end of the month when money has run out, the abuser will feel more stress and rates of physical abuse occur more frequently. For other abusers who may drink or have substance abuse issues, time around pay-day can be trigger days. Make sure to keep a record of the incidents the victim can remember, fully understand what happens before, during and after. Make sure when asking these questions they are not framed in a way that implies the victim “caused” the abuse.

Just be supportive – Sometimes the best thing a person can do is just be a source of safety and support while the victim works though the situation. There are times when you want so badly to help but your hands are tied. It’s easy to become frustrated and give up on the victim or even angry if they don’t leave when you want them to. Understand the victim needs to work through the process and only they know the right time to leave. In the meantime, showing support is one of the best things you can do.

Ensure safety – Safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. These are highly volatile cases and can lead to serious injury or death for the victim, for investigators and even family and friends. Precautions and extra support for the victim should be encouraged.

And don’t forget to seek additional resources and help not just for the victim but for assistance in knowing the right things to do and say.

Domestic Violence and Victim Service Resources

National Center for Victims of Crime http://www.victimsofcrime.org/
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards http://www.nacvcb.org/
Women’s Law http://www.womenslaw.org/
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673
National Alliance on Mental Illness – 1-800-950-6264
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273- 8255