Speaking Up When We See Abuse

Questions and discussion about sexual or other abuse or assault, and support and help for survivors.
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This area of the boards is expressly for support and help for those who are currently in or have survived abuse or assault. It is also for those seeking information or discussion about abuse or assault. Please make every effort in this space to be supportive and sensitive. Posts in this area may or do describe abuse or assault explicitly.

This area of the boards is also not an area where those who are themselves abusing anyone or who have abused or assaulted someone may post about doing that or seek support. We are not qualified to provide that kind of help, and that also would make a space like this feel profoundly unsafe for those who are being or who have been abused. If you have both been abused and are abusing, we can only discuss harm done to you: we cannot discuss you yourself doing harm to others. If you are someone engaging in abuse who would like help, you can start by seeking out a mental healthcare provider.
alice
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Speaking Up When We See Abuse

Unread postby alice » Mon Oct 02, 2017 8:04 pm

Have you ever been a witness to abuse and intervened in some way? If so, how did it go and how did you feel? What, if anything, would you want to do differently next time?

Have you ever been a witness to abuse and wanted to intervene, but didn't? If so, what kept you from intervening? What, if anything, would you want to do differently next time?

Seeing abuse can happen in the hallway at school, on the subway or bus, at the grocery store, in someone's home, anywhere. I've been thinking a lot about bystander intervention and would love to hear about your experiences.

Iwanthelp
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Re: Speaking Up When We See Abuse

Unread postby Iwanthelp » Wed Oct 04, 2017 3:10 am

There's nothing immediately coming to mind, I think over the years I've maybe posted "yeah this sounds abusive" to advice threads for example. I can think of one occasion hearing screaming (it sounded like a kid being more disruptive than anything but it was lasting a bit too long) and going near the house to listen - that seems to be about as far as I get, gauging from the outside, then a parent getting annoyed and telling me off because 'not my business' or something - my own family has a generational history of abuse so yeah, sometimes this bystander thing is really ingrained and it fucking sucks. Like you want to help but you instantly feel self-scolded like an annoying nosy overstepping prat for even considering it.

It doesn't help that in my experience reports can feel useless, like they'll talk to the parents of the household (aka the accused and the one with a vested interest in pretending that their significant other isn't an abuser) and not the one who made the report. That's beyond unhelpful, the first two categories have every reason to lie if the significant other isn't the one that made the call themselves.

Another complication is you don't want to be too forward in case the abuser retaliates against the victim in private - several 'my friend is being abused' guides say do not fight the abuser period. Overall I've done less than I would have liked because of a feeling of hopelessness and "what can I even do to help at this point when the polices' go-to is to listen to the abusers' side of the story?".

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Re: Speaking Up When We See Abuse

Unread postby Mo » Fri Oct 06, 2017 2:40 pm

I had a situation a year or so ago that I still don't feel great about, to be honest. I was walking in my neighborhood (I live in a mostly-residential area of a large city) and when I rounded a corner I found myself behind a man YELLING at a woman I assume was his girlfriend, in a really scary way, while she just walked next to him silently staring straight ahead. Another woman was walking near me and we kind of gave each other a "this is messed up, we can't just leave this situation" look but it wasn't clear what we could do; I honestly thought that if either of us tried to approach or talk to the guy he might be violent with us or the girlfriend, but walking away didn't seem like a good idea either. The guy seemed to notice that we were glaring daggers at him and half-heartedly yelled at us to fuck off before he went back to yelling at his partner.

We walked behind them for a block or so, not super close but maybe 20 yards behind. Eventually the woman with me got her phone out, I think to call the police, but the yelling guy got VERY angry when he noticed, and the woman who was being yelled at said something like "please stop" or "leave us alone" or something similar and I felt like I had to respect her wishes in that - she might have known that any sort of escalation on our part would mean worse abuse for her later - so at the next intersection I turned off towards my initial destination.

I felt terrible just leaving the situation, but I also felt like it would be wrong of me to ignore the victim's wishes in that moment. I honestly still don't know what I should have done there. Maybe it was helpful for that person to know that other folks saw what was happening and didn't approve, but I don't know.

alice
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Re: Speaking Up When We See Abuse

Unread postby alice » Wed Oct 11, 2017 9:18 pm

Thank you so much Iwanthelp and Mo!

Iwanthelp, I really resonate with that self-scolding that you mentioned comes up when you want to speak up but you worry about "getting in other people's business." I also resonate with the hopelessness that can come when we see abuse and don't know how, if at all, we can help.

Mo, I'm so sorry to hear about that experience :( Even just hearing about it makes me feel, well...sad and mad and anxious. I definitely have a few of those experiences hanging in my head as well, of when I really felt that something was wrong, but I either couldn't figure out what to say/do in time or was just simply too nervous.

But I'd like to share here about a time that I wasn't too nervous to do bystander intervention. And by that I mean I was really, really nervous but I pushed myself to be brave (while of course also making sure I was doing what I could to keep myself safe.)

The other day I was riding the subway, listening to my music/looking at my phone, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed some weird stuff happening between this teen couple. So I gave them my full attention. He was angrily whispering in her ear, asking her questions and demanding she "say yes" to them. She wouldn't and so he would use the arm that was around her shoulder to twist her neck and choke her, forcing her to look at him, and then he would get in her face and whisper things angrily until she would nod and look away again. He would alternate between this and every once and awhile kissing her and whispering what seemed to be nice things, all the while still casually putting his hand around her neck. She would swat it away, over and over and over again. Everything this guy did was very subtle. For example, he was VERY QUIET. So if you weren't paying close attention you probably would have just seen a boy with his arm around a girl and the girl leaning on him and holding his hand. (A happy teen couple!)

Watching this happen made feel extremely mad, and also extremely anxious. I set an intention of speaking up when I see unjust things in public, so I knew I wanted to say something, but just the idea of it made my anxiety skyrocket. Nonetheless, when it was about to be my stop I took a deep breath and went over and said to her, "Hey I'm sorry to get in your business I just noticed he keeps putting his hand around your neck and you keep moving it away and so I wanted to ask if you're okay?" He was PISSED, but also very surprised. She meanwhile seemed not surprised at all, she smiled sweetly and very calmly told me she was okay and said thank you. As I was getting off, i saw him mouth incredulously "are you okay??" but from what i could tell his anger was directed at me not at her.

Now obviously me saying something isn't going to end that abusive relationship, but I wanted her to know that 1. someone saw what he was doing 2. someone didn't think what he was doing was okay and 3. someone cared about her safety. I do feel that accomplished all of that. I also aimed to not escalate the situation--both in terms of violence toward her or towards me. That was one of the reasons I chose to check-in with her, rather than berate him (which was my first urge!). It was also why I made sure to keep my voice calm. And finally, I wanted to make sure I was centering her not him, because I didn't want to be just another person ignoring her wishes and desires (which is what I would have been doing had I followed my first instinct to focus on him.)

My hands didn't stop shaking for an hour, and I felt really shook up for the rest of the day, and am obviously still thinking about it (hence me sharing it here). But I also feel proud of myself, and feel even more empowered to speak up the next time I see someone being treated badly. This experience made me realize what a huge part of bystander intervention is overcoming the NERVOUSNESS that comes with it! Hence me starting this thread.

If others have experiences they would like to share, please go ahead!


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