How Women Can Be Allies to Women
We live in a post #Metoo world. A world where when Alyssa Milano tweeted " If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ' Me too.' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem," the internet exploded. Hundreds of thousands of women came forward with their deepest, darkest, most painful stories and for a moment we were all connected through this shared experience of knowing that we are not alone.
Two years later, the world is a little more open to these stories and yet the stigma around sexual assault and domestic violence continues to haunt survivors. ' What will people say when I tell my story?' still holds countless women ( and men) in situations of violence back from speaking out and seeking help. Together we can change this by being better allies to each other. Here's how:
1. ' I believe you'
These three golden words can change a person's life. Domestic abuse is a cycle of power and control. This cycle often makes you question your own truth, it eats away at your self-confidence and beats you down. In this light, when a survivor opens up to someone about their abuse and that person responds with the words ' I believe you' it can make all the difference. So often when a friend shares something difficult with us, our immediate reaction is to try to fix it, or mediate or give advice. But these actions can be counterproductive and shut the person down even further. Just believe what your friend is saying, listen actively and let them know that you are there for them and support them in whatever they need to do.
2. Don't judge We are all products of the society that we are raised in and therefore we have all internalized the stigma around issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, divorce (albeit to different extents). When a friend tells you that they are in a domestic violence situation, or they have been sexually assaulted be aware of your first response. Questions like ' What did you do?' or even ' What were you wearing?' may arise in your mind, but becoming conscious of these internalized biases will help you be a better ally. In our South Asian culture, divorce is a scary word. Generations of women have suffered in silence to 'keep the family together', without realizing that an abusive household is already a broken household. Children who grow up witnessing domestic violence are more likely to become abusers or get abused themselves, thus endlessly perpetuating the cycle of violence. So next time you give your friend advice to ' work on their relationship' or 'stick it out for the children', think again.
3. Meet the survivor where they are at By this, we do not mean literally go to their house, but to meet them on the same emotional level that they are on. If someone is not ready to seek help, pushing them to do so will only drive them away from you and further into isolation. Sometimes all that people need is someone to listen to them, and if that is what your friend needs at that point in time, do that. Trust that people are the experts on their own life, no matter how clearly you see ' the solution', it is not your place. Let your friend know that you are there for them, offer to hold their hand while they call a domestic violence agency or support them in any way that they need, but let them decide when to make that call.
4. Inform yourself and support your local organizations
A big part of being a better ally not only to your friends but to the movement against domestic violence as a whole is to inform yourself. When you know more about the cycle of power and control, when you can tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy love, when you can point out red flags or trouble signs in relationships before they turn into trouble, you can be a better ally to everyone including yourself. One of the best ways to learn more is to get involved in local organizations working on this topic, such as Daya. You can volunteer with us, be a Daya ambassador and host info sessions at your house, attend free workshops, read relevant books from our library, and ask questions to experts in working the field. Even simply following us on social media and sharing our posts will help us spread awareness about the public health epidemic that is domestic violence, and break the silence around this issue.
If you or someone you know find yourself in a situation of domestic abuse ( including witnessing abuse) or have been sexually assaulted, we can help.
Call our confidential hotline on 713-981-7645