Wediko Blog

Domestic Violence: What and How to ask about people’s experience

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Domestic Violence: What and How to ask about people’s experience

Last year, a tangle with the vacuum cleaner left me with what turned out to be a fractured collarbone. In the ER I was asked a number of routine questions:

“What brings you here today”?
“How much pain are you in”?
“Are you feeling safe at home”?

The nurse dutifully noted my responses, never looking up at me. When I recounted the experience in a Getting It Together meeting, the women said, “This is a fake question…, asked to just check off a box on the to-do list…they never look at you when they ask… they don’t really want to know.”

Questions that veer in the other direction such as, “Have you experienced domestic violence in your relationship?” are even worse. Group participants reported that specific questions bring up feelings of “dread, embarrassment, shame, anger, make me freeze and automatically lie…make me want to run away… put bad memories in my head… make me feel worse because I can’t stand up for myself… feel like it is no one else’s business…terrify me because I could lose my children if they find out what I am up against at home.”

It was reassuring to know that women in the Getting It Together group felt differently about the way we ask questions.

Wediko is the first place that I ever answered the questions honestly, because of the way you asked. You made it so natural and you were connected to me, not the form.  I knew you were trying to understand my life”, said one participant.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the United States, an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute. This equates to more than 10 million abuse victims annually.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My goal is to continue to work within my circles and share what we have learned about what to ask about people’s experience, how to ask it, and what comes next.  Hint: it involves only one thing: listening.

“If harm occurs within a relationship,
then healing often takes place through relationship as well.”[1] 

Written by: Terry Landon, LICSW, Program Manager, Wediko Children’s Services.

[1] Warshaw, C., Brashler, P., & Gill, J. (2009).  Mental health consequences of intimate partner violence.  In Mitchell, C. 7 Anglin, D., (Eds.), Intimate partner violence: A health-based perspective.  New York: Oxford University Press.  P. 147-171.

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