Introduction to responding to people who have been impacted by domestic, family and sexual violence
- This resource is intended to support responding to disclosures of domestic, family and sexual violence by someone who has been impacted by the violence, rather than someone who has been using violence
- How you respond to a disclosure of domestic, family and sexual violence can be significant to supporting the individuals access to safety and recovery
- If you have not had training in this area or do not feel confident or safe to respond appropriately, responding with compassion and kindness and then referring the person to a specialist domestic, family or sexual violence service is equally as important and valuable action to take
Responding to disclosures of violence
It can take a lot of courage to disclose an experience of domestic, family or sexual violence.
Responding sensitively and with compassion can be an important aspect of supporting the individual who has made the disclosure.
Responding this way as opposed to reacting with shock and/or questioning the experience can ensure that the individual feels safe and believed, empowering the person to continue to access supports.
It is important to know that you do not have to be an expert, or to have all of the answers for someone who makes a disclosure of experiencing violence. Responding with compassion and then assisting the person to access services that can provide specialist responses can be the most critical role that an individual can have in supporting someone impacted by violence to access safety.
The ABCs of responding appropriately to disclosures:
- ASK to be alone (respect the person's privacy)
- BELIEVE the disclosure
- CALL in the specialist resources (with the individual's consent)
When a family member, friend, or colleague connects with you and discloses that they have been impacted by domestic, family and sexual violence, the priority in the first instance is ensuring the person’s immediate safety. Ask the person whether they are safe to talk now and be guided by how the person responds. When immediate safety is a concern, you should always encourage the person to contact the police.
Responding with sensitivity and prioritising safety
If you have not attended professional development and training specific to responding to disclosures of domestic, family and sexual violence, then you are in no circumstances expected to be able to complete a comprehensive risk assessment.
Nor is it your job to jump into problem-solving. Instead, you have a responsibility to be led by the person making the disclosure, be transparent about the limitations you may have in terms of being able to advise or provide information, and suggest that you can support them to access a specialist service or be there to listen and look up support services alongside them.
Recommendations for how to respond with compassion
- Take your time to listen to what the person wants to share with you, and validate that the violence is not OK and not their fault
- Thank the person for trusting you with this information and ask what they would like from you to support their safety
- Make sure the person has privacy to be able to tell their story. If possible, and when they feel safe to do so, suggest going into a quiet room, where they will be able to talk more freely
- Don’t ask too many questions about what has happened — this can be intrusive and re-traumatising
- Do not argue with the person, push your agenda, or tell them to leave. It is not your role to make decisions on behalf of the person seeking support
- Respect their right to have control over what they say and the actions they want to take
- Ask what support they have to help them at the moment and encourage them to consider what other specialist assistance they might feel comfortable accessing
- Refer them on to specialist support, such as 1800RESPECT or a local support service.
Training to help you respond to disclosures of domestic, family and sexual violence
Helping people to process and recover from the trauma arising from sexual, domestic and family violence is specialist work. However, all workers can learn how to respond in a trauma-informed way.
The best way to make sure you are responding well to disclosures of violence is to attend accredited training or training from a specialist domestic, family and sexual violence response service. The type of training that is right for you will depend on your role, professional background, and the relevant State of Territory Risk Assessment Frameworks.
1800RESPECT does not provide training. Our training and professional development page has more information about the different types of roles and training available. You can also search the Service Directory for organisations in your area that provide training.
DV-alert is a program that provides free nationally recognised training that can help you:
- Recognise the signs of domestic and family violence
- Respond with appropriate care
- Refer effectively to support services
If you are a community frontline worker there is no training fee, with the program fully funded by the Department of Social Services. Participants who complete the nationally accredited face-to-face workshops may also be supported to help cover costs for travel, accommodation and staff backfill.
Benefits of formal training
There are a range of professional and personal benefits to receiving training n this area. Depending on the type of training, benefits might include:
- Deepening your awareness and understanding how domestic and family violence can impact on a person's physical and emotional wellbeing
- Tools for support to take home
- Points for professional development
- Opportunities to network with other frontline workers in the community
- Better referral service through increased knowledge of local resources and support
- Membership in the DV-alert online community which provides tools and resources on domestic and family violence support and referral
See the DV-alert website for more information on the workshops and training that they offer.