Several months ago, the Sarjesa team participated in a workshop with Sagesse, an organization that works to empower individuals, organizations and communities to break the cycle of domestic violence. The two-hour workshop was called Stand By and to this day, it is one of the most impactful events I have ever participated in.
While this workshop was extremely educational from beginning to end, it was one particular activity we did that changed forever changed the way I saw how people experience domestic violence.
Using gender-neutral language, the wonderful staff member at Sagesse walked us through the experiences of an individual (and their child) who had just escaped a violent relationship. This individual named Sam stood in the middle, while everyone they had to disclose domestic violence to stood in a circle around them. This circle included teachers, bank tellers, bosses, coworkers, friends, family, etc.
Over the course of the exercise, Sam had to repeat their truth — that they had been experiencing domestic violence for years and had finally escaped — over and over and over and over again. Not only did they have to repeatedly re-traumatize themselves in order to get the proper support and resources needed to thrive in this situation, but the responses received weren’t always encouraging. Again and again, Sam was forced to confide in individuals who judged them, didn’t believe them, or belittled their awful experiences.
This empathy exercise was truly a wake up call to what survivors of domestic violence have to endure in their journeys to safety. Each person who attended the workshop was deeply moved, and to this day, it changed the way we see how to support survivors.
In case you didn’t know, statistics say that people who are experiencing domestic violence are abused 29 times before calling the police. And even then, people experiencing domestic violence leave the relationship 7 times before they leave for good.
Leaving violent situations is complex in every way possible, and we truly are fortunate to have the opportunity to learn how to support survivors — even if what feels right for them isn’t what feels right for you.
Here are some takeaways from the team:
“My biggest takeaway was learning that the resources are there through organizations like Sagesse and crisis centres geared towards domestic violence. I’m unfortunate enough to have been around relationships that were abusive and, in some instances, were violent. When they asked for help, I was at a loss as I wanted to help them in a greater capacity than I felt like I was contributing, but I had no idea these resources were there.”
“Chances are that we know someone who might be or has experienced difficult circumstances. And while we might not have all the answers, we have the opportunity to offer support in really simply ways: by listening with an open heart and an open mind, validating their experience and thanking them for trusting you, supporting their decisions and offering help without judgement, and meeting them where they are trusting them to know what’s best.”
“Domestic violence can happen to anyone, of all ages, with any background. My biggest takeaway was that people need time and that leaving the relationship immediately is never the right move if it doesn’t feel right to them. The best thing you can do as an ally is support them however they need. I’d highly recommend everyone to take this workshop in order to understand the frustrations that a victim could feel and how you can support them to the best of your capacity.”