Domestic violence is still largely seen as a private matter between two individuals and few services successfully engage the informal social networks (e.g., family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues) of survivors . Even ‘community’ responses, frequently focus on service providers rather than survivors’ social networks . This is unfortunate as these networks can play a crucial role in preventing domestic violence and in supporting survivors.
Leaving a violent partner is not easy and many women take numerous attempts before ending a violent relationship. They fear repercussions, they face potential poverty, they aren’t sure what will happen to their children, there are a wide range of emotional and practical barriers to leaving, and they don’t know where to go [3, 4]. Violent partners also make it difficult for women to leave by keeping them poor, making them afraid and controlling their movements .
Many women are reluctant to tell the police or service providers that they are experiencing abuse. Interviews with 2,214 Australian women who had survived domestic violence found that the women were much more likely to tell their family, friend or neighbour than the police or an agency .
Even if they aren’t told, other people often have an idea that there are problems in abusive relationships, and could play an important role in supporting survivors or even help them leave the abuse.
Interestingly there is little research into the experience of family, friends and neighbours in providing support  and little is known about how friends, families and neighbours respond when they learn someone is experiencing domestic violence. Beeble and her colleagues  found the most common responses were to provide support by listening to the survivors’ experience of abuse and providing emotional support. Other strategies included providing a referral to a support organisation (including a women’s refuge), informing the police or other family members and providing practical assistance (e.g. providing a place to stay, helping them move or assisting financially).
If we can make it easier, and more socially acceptable, for the informal social networks of people in violent relationships to become involved, a range of possibilities open up.
A social network-oriented approach
Goodman and Smyth  call for a social network-oriented approach where service providers actively engage the local community in supporting survivors of domestic violence. Such an approach could include:
- Exploring with survivors who could be willing to provide assistance and how they could be involved
- Supporting a women’s informal social network as they try to provide assistance
- Encouraging family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues to contact support lines to discuss how they could help
- Helping survivors to maintain and expand their informal social networks.
One of the impacts of domestic violence is social isolation and so the informal networks of survivors often shrink. In most cases, however, there will still be people around – some of whom might be unknown to the survivor (e.g., neighbours) – who would be willing to make a difference. Engaging social networks could make a big difference to many survivors.
The Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Victoria has some useful information for families, friends and neighbours, and I’ve previously posted over 70 things people can do where they suspect someone is experiencing domestic violence.
If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:
- What can you do when someone you know is experiencing domestic violence?
- Domestic and family violence – What about men?
- Domestic violence – why doesn’t she just leave?
- What is the Strengths Perspective?
- Strengths-based approaches = HOPE
- What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
- Goodman, L.A. and K.F. Smyth, A call for a social network-oriented approach to services for survivors of intimate partner violence. Psychology of Violence, 2011. 1(2): p. 79-92.
- Haq, J. and R. Lewis, The violence of community? Conceptualizations of ‘community’ in responses to intimate partner abuse. Community Development Journal, 2013.
- Parkinson, D., K. Burns, and C. Zara, A powerful journey: a research report. Women reflect on what helped them leave. 2004, Wangaratta: Women’s Health Goulburn North East.
- Bosch, K. and M.B. Bergen, The Influence of Supportive and Nonsupportive Persons in Helping Rural Women in Abusive Partner Relationships Become Free from Abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 2006. 21(5): p. 311-320.
- Mouzos, J. and T. Makkai, Women’s experiences of male violence: findings from the Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS). 2004, Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
- Latta, R.E. and L.A. Goodman, Intervening in Partner Violence Against Women: A Grounded Theory Exploration of Informal Network Members’ Experiences. Counseling Psychologist, 2011. 39(7): p. 973-1023.
- Beeble, M.L., et al., Factors Related to Willingness to Help Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2008. 23(12): p. 1713-1729.