Why domestic violence advocates say the best way to help survivors is to give them back control

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Abusers control. That’s their No. 1 tactic to keep domestic abuse survivors simultaneously afraid of them and yet reluctant to leave them. Be it controlling a survivor’s ability to go places, hold a job or access money, see friends or family, keep their children, what sexual decisions to make, or, by using some other form of mental control to make the victim feel dependent on their abuser, they are all tricks of the abuser trade.

That’s why, when a survivor decides it’s time to speak out about his or her situation and get help, the last thing they need is someone else telling them what to do.

As a result, domestic violence advocates say that using an empowerment model, or empowerment philosophy, is more successful in helping survivors escape abuse then by simply telling them to get out.

The Sojourner Center, a domestic violence shelter in Arizona, subscribes to this belief. They say, “Empowerment centers on the belief that women and children can break the cycle of domestic violence through supportive intervention because they posses the ability to make decisions that foster healthy, violence-free relationships.”

According to the Best Practices Manual of the Arizona Coalition of Domestic Violence[1], “Historically, domestic violence service providers and the community have responded to domestic violence by coaching victims on how to leave and how they should respond to the abusive relationship. Over time we have learned from survivors that what they need most is support, encouragement, and the resources to achieve their goals.”

Tami Sullivan, Director of Family Violence Research and Programs, Yale University, agrees. “This is why domestic violence service providers are so critical. They know about options for victims—sometimes it’s shelter and sometimes it’s developing a safety plan. But it’s all about empowering the victim.”

Survivors often are told things by their abusers like they’re useless, worthless or a horrible parent. “They come to think it’s true,” says Sullivan. That’s why empowering a survivor is so healing. “The empowerment model provide an environment in which each individual is responsible for his or her actions by supporting his or her right to make choices about themselves and how she or he lives their life,” reads the Coalition’s manual.

If you’re experiencing an abusive relationship, start your journey of empowerment today by learning about escaping violence with this series of helpful articles.

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