Bystander Intervention and Peer-Based Intervention are two of the most important ways that we can help someone who is going through violence. While sometimes the survivor of violence may not really appreciate the intervention, when undertaken smoothly, it has the potential to not only prevent gender-based violence but also save lives and enable the survivor to regain control of the situation.
Bystander Intervention, as the phrase denotes, is an intervention undertaken by people who witness a situation which puts an individual at risk. For example, this could be at a party, where you may spot someone being intimate with an inebriated person – which means they are not in a position to give their informed consent or by the road, where you locate a stalker.
Peer-Based Intervention is when you take the mantle of being an educator or interventionist for a friend, family or colleague. For example, this could be you explaining CPR or how to prevent HIV or how to reach out to the police for help, if one is feeling threatened.
However, for individuals, either of the interventions may be difficult to launch into as hesitations abide. One way to circumvent this initial hesitation of reaching out to offer help is by fully comprehending the patterns and signs that someone you know is possibly going through violence.
Do note that this is not a comprehensive list but only a set of signs, that if you notice, you should choose to probe further. The steps you take could save a life.
Your friend/family member needs to seek permission to exercise their basic rights especially with regards to their movement, their finances or their decision making. This is more than a “Hey, am going away for the weekend. Hope I am not messing up any of our plans”. This sounds like “Can I go away for that weekend?” with a fear of punishment/consequence if they don’t adhere to their partners wish. That is control.
You notice that your friend/family member is being subjected to demeaning words and statements by their partner. This could be verbal abuse. Watch out for name-calling, condescending behaviour, criticism, degrading behaviour, manipulation, blame, accusations, isolating, gaslighting.
You notice that your friend/family member seems to be missing in activities they used to enjoy, is withdrawn and is holding back. Probe respectfully.
You notice a stark change in how they look. Sudden dark circles or eye bags, personality and attitudinal shifts, appearance and even weight are markers that things may not be going well.
Your friend or family member directly or indirectly tells you they are being forced to be intimate, and they do not feel comfortable with it. This is coerced intimacy and may in some cases even amount to rape.
They seem constantly stressed about their location and are worried about not responding in time to their partner. They keep looking over their shoulder, are anxiously checking their phone, and you find out that their movement is being monitored. Being followed without their consent is stalking.
Your friend or a family member has a set of rules they must follow in their relationship, failing which, they are afraid their partner will be angry. They live in fear of that anger and the consequences of it. Watch out for signs of that fear.
Your friend or family member is facing threats or even emotional blackmail. Threats of violence, suicide, homicide hang over their heads, issued by their partner with or without ultimatums and they undertake multiple activities to avoid the same.
You notice that their partner constantly questions them over meeting others, is suspicious, jealous and possessive.
You notice marks on their body or they confide on having been in a physical fight with their partner even if it involves something they deem as minor. Any physical abuse and violence, irrespective of degree, is a transgression into the boundary of safety, and lays the path for many more, that may amount to grave injuries or even death.
Ensure they know where they can access help and access a support network and safe space. This includes various helpline numbers and those of friends, family and civil society networks who can provide non-judgmental safe spaces. Meet a counsellor together to work through the situation with professional help that empowers them to break out of the situation.
Stay connected so the friend/family member can SOS you.
If you are outside with your friend and the person you suspect is a perpetrator have a secret code that your friend can use to signal that you both need to leave.
If you notice a situation of risk to the safety of a friend/ family member, create a distraction so they can get away.
Shrirupa Sengupta, Associate Director at Swasti, is a communications and leadership trainer-facilitator based out of Bengaluru, India. With hands-on experience in development communication, Shrirupa currently leads the Communications Team at Swasti- a global nonprofit headquartered in Bangalore.