Imagine that you’re a victim of intimate partner violence. Maybe it’s the first time you’ve been abused, or maybe the abuse has been going on for a long time. Your partner probably blames you for the abuse, and you feel ashamed that you’ve “let it happen.” Still, you know it’s wrong and are scared for your safety. So, you decide to reach out for help, whether that is to the police, a mental health professional, or some other professional or organization in your community.
We know that there are many great, helpful organizations and professionals in communities all around the country and the world that know how to help provide support and resources to victims of intimate partner violence. We heard how valuable this support can be from many of the participants in our research.
At the same time, our research also provided a number of examples of the problems that can come up when victims reach out for help and encounter untrained professionals and others who increase the stigma and challenges surrounding their abuse.
Our goal here isn’t to imply that all professionals are unhelpful and stigmatizing. We believe that the majority of professionals want to help and do their best to do so. However, we also heard some very unfortunate stories about times when survivors reached out for help and were met by harmful responses from the professionals who were in positions that they could have provided help.
With that in mind, consider the following examples from some of our participants:
One of the first sources for help for domestic violence is often the local law enforcement agency. The following two statements provide examples of harmful responses that some of our participants faced from law enforcement:
Other aspects of the criminal justice system also may leave survivors feeling stigmatized and unsupported. For example, one participant had the following to say about her experiences with her attorney and the court system:
Every survivor who reaches out for help should be met with supportive, knowledgeable professionals who can help them be safe and end the abuse in their lives.