Responding to disclosures

Women often tell someone for the first time about their experience of family violence when they are at a point of crisis. Few women approach family violence services or police in the first instance.

Women are more likely to approach friends, family, and members of various helping professions including GPs, child specialists, maternal and child health nurses, or family support staff.

Response to disclosure is often significant in determining women’s subsequent help-seeking behaviour. You can respond by the following:

  • Listen with empathy, without interrupting and without judgement. Give her time to share her story, at her own pace.
  • Believe what she tells you, and let her know you believe her. It is often very difficult to disclose experiences of violence, and a reason for this can be that women fear not being believed. You can say, for example, ‘it must have been hard for you to talk about this, a lot of women are often afraid that they won’t be believed’, or ‘it has taken a lot of courage to tell me about something that is so difficult for you.’
  • Reassure her the violence is unacceptable, and that the violence is not her fault. Let her know that no one deserves to be abused, no matter what. You could say, for instance, ‘responsibility for the violence always sits with the person who chooses to be violent.’
  • Refer her to support services and the help that is available. Let her know she can just get support and information, and they won’t pressure her to leave if she doesn’t want to.

More information on how to respond to disclosures can be found on the DVRCV website.

Unhelpful responses to disclosures

Thing to avoid:

  • Talking down: ‘Well, it’s obvious that you’re not thinking straight so you just leave it all to me.’
  • Ordering: ‘I think you should leave him and I’ll get you into the refuge.’
  • Avoidance: ‘Maybe we can talk about that later?’
  • Logical argument: ‘It’s a fact that violence only gets worse over time.’
  • Judging: ‘You know it’s harmful to the children exposing them to this kind of thing, you shouldn’t let that happen.’

(Source: Women’s Health West, 2010, Family Violence Intervention and Prevention of Violence Against Women Training Package, Women’s Health West, Melbourne, Australia).