Dealing with victims of violence upon their arrival : advice for the support worker

MdM, Regional workshop on providing care and support to women victims
of violence, Latin America/ Caribbean, 18 – 21 November 2008.

Evelyne Josse, 2008


Helpful behaviour

– A professional appearance;
– Standing up to greet the person;
– Making eye contact (quantity of direct eye contact, expression of benevolence);
– Using gestures such as nodding, smiling, and mirroring the person’s own gestures;
– Encouraging the person by making appropriate sounds (“Hmm… hmm”), stimulate the conversation (“And then what happened?”, etc…);
– A kind, patient and tolerant attitude;
– Showing an interest, listening attentively;
– Asking questions to shed light on a particular topic, ask for further details;
– Giving useful (that is to say, practical and specific) advice;
– Repeating words that the person has used;
– Not interrupting the person;
– Not judging or criticising;
– Demonstrating that you are trustworthy;
– Maintaining an appropriate physical distance between you and the person;

Unhelpful behaviour
– Staring “harshly” or in an investigative or insistent manner;
– An unpleasant attitude;
– Aggression;
– Listening only distractedly or not asking any questions;
– Showing indifference;
– Interrupting the person;
– Criticising or judging them;
– Making the victim feel guilty
– Casting doubts on what they are telling you;
– Being too familiar with the person (in terms of your vocabulary);
– Using technical language;
– Displaying an air of superiority;
– Any argumentative behaviour or attempt to convince the victim;
– Bringing up your own problems;
– Following the speaker’s gaze or body language rather than focussing on what they are saying;
– Joking or laughing inappropriately
– Being too far away or too close to the victim
– Forgetting what the person has said previously
– Appearing too affected by what the person is saying (be it enthusiastic or moved)


– Sit somewhere quiet, where privacy will be guaranteed;
– Avoid potential distractions;
– Make sure that it is a one to one situation (worker and victim);
– Preferably, the worker should be female;
– Introduce yourself (role, organisation), explain the aim of the interview;
– Ask the victim to introduce herself;
– Sit opposite the victim, look at her and give her your full attention (listening skills);
– Ensure her that she can speak to you in confidence;
– Ask the person if there is anything you can do to make her feel more at ease (ie: opening or closing the door, contacting somebody, etc);
– Recognise that violence is common (do not place any doubt on what the victim is saying to you);
– Help the victim to express herself and respect her silences;
– Show patience. It may be the first time that she has gone through the facts!
– Take into account the resulting distress and confusion;
– Assure the victim that the steps she is taking are legitimate (asking for help in a time of need / danger is crucial!);
– Listen with consideration and respect;
– Accept what the person is saying to you (not always easy);
– Take into account the victim’s assessment of the facts not yours! (ie: do not consider that certain forms of sexual assault are more minor than others);
– Allow the victim to express her emotions whilst at the same time helping her to control them;
– Help her to define and put together her priorities;
– Remind her of the laws (defence, protection, conviction) and explicitly name the types of violence that have been used;
– Place the responsibility for what has happened back with the aggressor: the victim is not responsible for the violence she has incurred;
– Inform the victim of the help available to her (organisations that provide counselling, drop-ins, accommodation, emergency hospitals, medical, legal, social services, the police, etc), the steps she can take and the role each worker plays in the process (psychologist, nursing auxiliary, doctor, police officer, judge, etc);
– Just sharing information is not in itself enough! (consider the person’s interests, the possibilities, the most appropriate moment).
– Help the victim to take the steps she wishes to and take over where necessary. Go with her to the places that are particularly male environments (such as to give a statement);
– In domestic violence situations, help her to recognise the cycle of violence;
– Respect any measures the victim takes to protect people;
– Finish the interview looking ahead to the future;
– Encourage the victim to get back in touch with you further down the line.