Abuse is a sensitive subject, especially for the person experiencing the abuse.
As someone who has been abused I can tell you that it’s hard to recognise it, let alone talk about it to someone else.
If you suspect someone is being abused but you’re not sure then you might brush it off and feel like you don’t know enough to be able to approach the situation, but let me tell you something…
If you have concerns about a child or adult’s wellbeing, the greatest danger is that you do nothing.
Who knows, things might come to nothing, or you might become someone’s everything.
However, talking to a potential victim of abuse requires certain steps, sensitivity, and safeguarding, for yourself and for the person you’re approaching.
I am not a safeguarding professional, but I do have certifications in safeguarding as part of my job. I work with potentially vulnerable individuals, children, and those under a lot of professional and athletic stress, so it comes with the territory.
From my knowledge I am going to give you some basic tips to how to approach someone that you might worry is currently experiencing abuse.
Just remember, each case is individual and each person is individual. Even if you suspect something is occurring you cannot talk for the potential victim, all you can do is listen to them and try to help and understand them, even if things do not go the way you expect.
Always Remember: It Is Not Your Role to Investigate
As much as you might want to know more in order to help an individual (especially if you care about them) it’s not your place to investigate.
Not only does trying to investigate potentially put yourself (and the potential victim) in more danger, but it’s also outside of your scope of practice or expertise.
Unless you have professional qualifications and an official job within the abuse and safeguarding sector then it is outside of your scope of practice to be able to safely and securely investigate and handle the situation.
Your capacity in helping someone is to provide support and to assist them in getting any help they might require, not in assuming you are the primary assistance they need.
Approach The Situation Carefully
If you’re going to talk to someone about anything regarding abuse then make sure that you do so in a safe, open, but also quiet space. Make sure your conversation won’t be interrupted but don’t put yourself or them in a compromising position.
And if someone comes to you to confide in you then be welcoming, even if the time or situation isn’t convenient for you.
It takes a lot of courage to approach someone and, if rejected, it might not happen again.
Act Like The British
Keep calm, at least, but don’t just ‘carry on.’
Instead listen very carefully. Allow the person confiding in you to talk at their own pace and give them all the time, pauses, and emotional stops needed to get through what they want to say.
If you are panicked, alarmed, angry or distressed that’s fine, but don’t allow it to show through in the moment.
If someone is confiding in you then you are their rock and their emotional oasis in an otherwise turbulent moment. Hold your emotions sturdy and allow yourself time and self care to process them later, but not during the moment.
Never Ask Leading Questions
Nor put words in a person’s mouth or ask anything that might drive the conversation away from the potential victim’s personal experiences.
If you do ask questions then ask them for the sake of clarity only and then continue to listen.
When communicating it’s also appropriate to make sure it’s age appropriate. This is especially important if you’re talking to a child or young adult, or with someone who is speaking in their second language.
Reassure The Victim
Let the person know that you are sorry about what has happened to them and that you will do all you can to help them.
Don’t promise confidentiality and don’t promise that you can fix it; you can’t fulfil those things in either instance. But there’s no harm in showing empathy, understanding, and sympathy.
If emergency help is needed then don’t hesitate to get it.
If things are less immediate then work with the victim to identify the most appropriate services and then act accordingly.
After your conversation be sure to make notes as soon as you possibly can (in a confidential manner). This might help in any assistance that is needed afterwards, especially if this is a workplace incident.
Defer to the Professionals
Once your conversation with the person has reached its natural conclusion then all you can do from there is defer to the professionals.
Allow those with the knowledge, expertise, and authority to follow up on the incidents involved and let them do their job.
There is nothing to stop you from continuing to interact with the individual concerned, but always remember that you are a bystander to their situation, not an expert.
Be supportive and understanding. At the end of the day they will appreciate that more than anything as, chances are, they haven’t had that in a long time.