How Can I Help a Newcomer Woman Who is Living with Violence?
Whether you are a neighbour, friend, family member, hairdresser, shopkeeper, co-worker, community group, faith leader, or a concerned bystander, you can offer support.
- Do you suspect that she is being abused, but aren’t sure? Click here.
- Has she told you that she is being abused? Click here.
A newcomer woman I know may be living with abuse, but I’m not sure. What should I do?
Recognizing you have a role to play is the first step. If you have noticed warning signs of abuse, you can have a “SNCit” conversation to take action.
SNCit – See It, Name It, Check It
This is a three step process to offer support to a newcomer woman who may be living with abuse.
- Don’t ignore the signs you see, don’t look the other way.
- Does what you have noticed match the warning signs of abuse? How about the signs of high risk?
- Do you have a gut feeling that something is wrong?
- If it feels appropriate and you are in a safe and private place where no one can overhear or monitor your conversation online, name what you have seen t o the woman who is being abused. You can say something like, “This is what I saw. I care about you and I’m concerned. How can I help?”
- If it doesn’t feel safe or appropriate to speak to the person being abused, talk to someone you trust, or seek advice from a professional. Do not spread any gossip within the community – this could make her situation worse.
- If there is no one you feel safe naming it to, you can name it to yourself.
Feeling Some Hesitation or Concern?
If you are feeling some hesitation or concern about supporting someone you think is living with abuse, here are some things to think about:
- You are not alone. Look for support for yourself – is there a resource in your community can support you as you do this?
- Abuse is not a “private matter”. Violence affects the whole community, and it takes a community to respond to it
- There are resources in the community, including for the person who is doing the abusing
- If we do nothing, the violence could get worse
- It can be difficult for a newcomer woman to seek support or leave the person who is abusing them
- Your support could make a huge difference for a newcomer woman and her children
- Find resources you can offer her or refer her to. To find resources, click here. [Link to Support Resources anchor on I Need Help Now page]
- Find agencies you can refer her to that are accessible to her, especially places that can help her with safety planning. To find supports in your area of Ontario, click here. [Link to Support Resources anchor on I Need Help Now page]
- Stay connected to her. Find a way to keep speaking with her privately, with no one listening to or monitoring your conversations. Offer supports such as childcare/babysitting, making phone calls for her, help with safety planning.
A Newcomer Woman Told Me That She is Being Abused. What Should I Do?
Use the “BLUESKY” guidelines to take action.
BLUESKY (Believe her, Listen to her, Understand her immigration status, Ease isolation, Support her choices, Know about resources, Your voice matters) can help you remember what to consider when you support a newcomer woman living with abuse.
Survivors of violence are often stereotyped and not believed when they tell someone about the violence that is happening to them. People might say that she is exaggerating, or wants attention, or that she is somehow to blame for the abuse.
That is why it is very important to make it clear that you believe her when she tells you she is being abused. You can do this by saying “I believe you.”
It is also important to tell her that she is not to blame for the abuse. Many women living with violence and abuse are blamed for the abuse that happens to them. This is called victim-blaming. This victim-blaming may come from the abuser, who says things like “You made me do this!” during or after the abuse. Victim-blaming may also come from messages we hear in the media and society at large.
A survivor of violence might start blaming herself, because of hearing blame repeated over and over by the abuser.
That is why it is important to make it clear it is not her fault. You can so this by saying, “It’s not your fault.”
Listen to her
It is important to listen to her without judgement. She is the expert on her own life and knows she needs. She does not need saving or rescue – she needs to be heard and offered support.
It is important to listen carefully because it could give you information about the resources that may be most helpful to her. For example, does she not have access to a phone? Does she really need a language interpreter? Does she wish she had her own bank account? Does she want access to a lawyer? Does she need childcare? Is she afraid of what people will think if she goes to a shelter?
As you listen, make sure that your conversations are private, and are not being monitored or listened to by the abuser or anyone else who may be in contact with the abuser. Be aware that online communication (text messages, email, Facebook, etc) may be monitored by the abuser. You may want to come up with a code word or a creative way to talk to her that will not be detected or understood by the abuser.
Understand her immigration status
It is important to understand what her immigration status in Canada is, so that you can understand what her options are.
If the woman you are supporting is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, she does not risk deportation, regardless of what the abuser might say.
If she is currently in the process of being sponsored by the abuser, or if her refugee claim is tied to the abuser, she should seek legal advice.
If she is a temporary foreign worker and is being abused by her employer, keep in mind that her work visa is tied to her specific employer and that applying for a new work visa can take over 6 months.
If she has no legal status in Canada, she is at risk of deportation and may fear accessing police or other services because her status could become known.
Support her choices
A common mistake we can make when we find out someone is living with abuse is to take over and start making decisions for them and telling them what to do. This can be damaging because a big part of abuse is that the abuser takes decisions away from the survivor and tries to control her life. That is why recovery from abuse is about giving control back to survivor.
When supporting a woman who is living with abuse, it is important that she gets to choose what happens next. Your role is to present her with information she can use to make informed choices, and then to support her choices. For example, you can offer her information about resources she can access, but be sure not to force her to access those resources. Whatever decisions she makes, support her decisions and let her know that you are here for her.
Know about resources
Become aware of resources that are available, especially specific resources in your community [link to Support Resources anchor in I Need Help section] Research as many details as possible before presenting a resource to her, such as the location, hours of operation, how to be eligible, whether there is a cost, a waiting list, or any other factors that might affect her. Call organizations who could support her (including women’s shelters) to get as much information as possible, especially if she is planning to leave. Accompany her to appointments with agencies and meetings with lawyers.
Make sure the abuser does not know that you are providing her with these resources. Avoid online communication if her computer is monitored. Make sure your conversations are not being overheard.
Your Voice Matters
It is important to avoid any gossip about what the woman has told you. Word spreading around the community could increase her danger.
A powerful step you can take is to add your voice to the global movement to end violence against women. You can:
- Challenge sexist and misogynist comments by friends and family
- Participate in public education campaigns
- Get involved with local organizations or groups that do anti-violence work as a volunteer
- Raise money for anti-violence organizations
- Advocate for increased and more appropriate programs and services so that immigrant and refugee women facing multiple barriers are not left without services
- Speak up about racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and ableism.
You may be motivated to do more. If you want to join the IRCNFF Campaign and run awareness events in your community, click here. [Link to IRCNFF Champions section under I Want Change header]