Tashya De Silva
Violence against Women & Girls: How to seek help for yourself or others
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a persistent, pervasive and global issue, violating human rights and causing devastating impacts on those who experience it. Many of the cases go unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.
Manifestations can include physical, sexual and psychological forms, such as:
Intimate partner violence (battering, psychological abuse, marital rape, femicide)
Sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, child sexual abuse, forced marriage, street harassment, stalking, cyber- harassment)
Human trafficking (slavery, sexual exploitation)
Female genital mutilation
Globally it is reported that 1 in 3 women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence, most commonly by an intimate partner. With COVID19 pandemic, the problems have been exacerbated; violence is increasing at an exponential rate with a limited resources and services to support survivors. It is estimated more than 243 million women and girls worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in the last year.
Considering these fact, it is essential that you are aware of the signs and equipped with the knowledge to seek help for yourself or a loved one.
What are some of the common warning signs?
Some of the signs of violence, such as physical marks, may be easy to identify. Others may be easily overlooked (e.g. your friend skipping an activity that they used to love due to lack of interest/time). Though violence varies in its form and appearance from each person, it impacts victims both phyically and psychologically. Since anyone can be a victim regardless of their social, education or financial status, it can be useful to know these red flags that can alert you if a person is at risk.
Physical - Black eyes, bruises on arms, sprained wrist, red patches on their neck, busted lip etc.
Emotional - Agitation, anxiety and constant apprehension, changes in sleeping patterns, Developing a problem with substance abuse, extremely meek and timid, loss of interest in daily activities, low self-esteem, seems fearful, extremely apologetic, symptoms of depression, talking or attempting suicide.
Behavioural Changes - Withdraws social contact from friends/family, stops participating in activities that gave them enjoyment, very secretive about personal relationship, frequently late to work/appointments, becomes very reserved and distant
Given that Intimate Partner Violence is one of the most common forms of abuse, below I have listed a few signs that are common when the abuser is your partner.
They are very controlling and distrusts you. They keep track of everything you do, monitor your whereabouts and who you are with. They discourage/prevent you from seeing friends, family, or going to work/school.
They insists that you reply right away to their texts, emails, and calls, and demands to know your passwords to social media sites, email, and other accounts.
They may also appear jealous and insecure, constantly accusing you of cheating. They may attempt to control how you spend money and your use of medication (including birth control). They make everyday decision for you (e.g. What you wear or eat).
They may be demeaning, they put you down by insulting your appearance, intelligence, or interests. They try to humiliate you in front of others and attempt to destroy your property or things that you care about.
They are easily angered and have an unpredictable temper. They blame you for their violent outbursts and may physically harm or threaten harm to you, themselves, and members of your household, including children or pets.
They hurt you physically, such as hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting. They may use, or threaten to use, a weapon against you.
They may be sexually abusive, including rape or other forced sexual activity. They may incorrectly assume that consent for a sex act in the past means that you must participate in the same acts in the future. They may also incorrectly assume that consent for one activity means consent for increased levels of intimacy. For example, an abuser may assume that a kiss should lead to sex every time.
An abusive partner may threaten to turn you in to authorities for illegal activity if you report the abuse, or if you resist.
What can you do if you are experiencing violence?
The most important thing is to seek help from someone you trust. A few tips are given below:
Consider sharing your concerns with a trusted friend, family member or neighbour (e.g. develop a plan for when you need help including a secret code word/emojis that would help communicate safely with them)
Develop an escape strategy; think of plausible reasons for leaving the house and different times of the day/night ( e.g. Pharmacy, Grocery, etc.). Once you have gone to a safe place, use the phone to call for help.
Always keep your phone charged and nearby so you may call for help when required from a family member, friends, or the police. If your life is in danger, call the police if you believe it is safe to do so.
Identify patterns in your partner’s use and level of abuse. This can help you predict when the abuse may escalate.
What can I do to support a loved one who has experienced Violence?
The following LIVES approach is advocated by WHO for health workers during COVID19 but would be useful for friends/family/loved ones supporting someone who has been a victim of Violence:
Listen closely, with empathy and no judgement
Inquire about needs and concerns
Validate experiences. Show you believe and understand.
Enhance their safety.
Support them to connect with additional service
If you are unable to remove your loved one from the situation safely, it is essential you keep in touch and be creative. To avoid suspicion of the abuser, try to create means of communicating safely (e.g. Code words, during a playdate with children etc.)
Other key practices include:
Be supportive and believe them – speaking about their experience will be difficult, it is important you make it known that you are there for them and believe them.
Respect their right to consent – unless you believe their life is in immediate danger, you should not take any action without their consent. They should know their safety risks best and should be in charge of their decisions
Respect their privacy – due to multiple reasons including safety, stigma, victim blaming, and shame that survivors face, you should not reveal their identity unless you have their explicit approval.
Offer practical assistance and resources - let them know you are there to support them and you can offer the following as a means of keeping them safe(e.g. place to stay, transport, money)
Where to seek help?
Someone you trust. Turn to a family member, friend, loved one, neighbour, co-worker, or religious or spiritual adviser for support.
Women in Need: Provides essential crisis intervention support services to victims of violence including legal services, psychological counselling, emergency shelter and a 24hour Hotline: 011 471 85 85
Ma -Sevana Sarvodaya: A place for young mothers who have been victims of sexual abuse, rape and incest. It provides residential care and protection. Call 011 2 655577
Family Planning Association: provides counseling for women and children facing domestic violence. Call 112 555 455
The Community Concern Society runs a shelter for abused women called Heavena. Call 112 721 812
The Salvation Army Sri Lanka: provides shelter women and children affected by family violence. They provide short term shelter. Call 112324660
Women Help Line : 1938 This has been established with the objectives of providing assistance and relief for the receiving complaints related to all forms of discrimination against women, defilement of the rights of women, harassment and all kinds of abusive circumstances.
*Information sourced from World Health Organization and UNWomen
Disclaimer: The following information is not a suitable replacement for therapy or professional help. Mental health is very complex and there are various individual differences due to circumstances, genetics and life experience. All information published has been generalised and done in good faith. However, we will not be liable for any actions taken as a result of this website/post. If you are facing mental health concerns, it is important you reach out to a professional. You may also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further support.