Excerpts from:

Thoughts about Community Support around Intimate Violence

One punk smiles with a wild idea, one punk alertly notices, one punk is confused.

IntVolzine @ SallyDarity Library.  Republished by Zabalaza Books: Johannesburg, South Africa; 2009.  zabalaza_2009_intimate_violence @ archive.org.  Numbering in this document references the latter.

A stylized drawing of five people conversing and supporting each other.

Really you should read this whole zine if you’re interested, but I’ve gone and marked up the bits which stood out to me for easy reference.  Also, like, it’s long, and you may not have the time.

0. Foreword

This zine was inspired by a group process.  It is in no way a substitute for the process that we went through and we firmly believe that everyone should be starting small groups of their own, discussing this topic and generating your own zines.  We would love to read them.

pg. 4

A couple of us had been in other groups around this issue that had fallen apart, at least partly because the topic is so damn intense.  So we made the questions theoretical because we thought it was important that nobody got personal before they felt ready.  By the end of the group everyone had discussed personal experiences and felt safe doing it.  We agreed that giving ourselves enough time to really consider what we thought, and trusting each other to work through controversial questions, was an essential part of getting somewhere different in these conversations.

pg. 4

The process of this group has been inspiring in a way that a lifetime of political work has seldom been.  Doing work that is concrete and theoretical and emotional rocks my world.  And at the risk of sounding sappy, this group is amazing – smart and dedicated and brave.  Reading this zine cannot reproduce this group process.  The value of this work is the community connections created through talking with yer buddies.

pg. 5

1. Introduction

1.2 Why is this important?

If we bought everyone who ever fucked up a one way bus ticket to Nebraska, the scene would get small real fast.  And it wouldn’t be very fun for the folks in Omaha.

That said, the process is only going to work for folks if they both: a) actually want support and b) are interested in changing themselves and/or their situation.  There are lots of creative ways of encouraging people to be more interested in change, ranging from baking them yummy food to threatening them with boots.  If they’re really and truly not into it, it’s (and perhaps they’re) not worth your effort.  In which case all you need to do for them is stop them from hurting the other person by any means necessary.

pg. 7

1.3 A few words about words

In any case, English is pretty limited in its terminology, and most of the words that do exist around this stuff has connotations that we’re not thrilled with.  For example, the word “abuser” tends to demonise, “victim” is disempowering, “survivor” assigns value for suffering, and “accused” questions the validity of the problem.  And since we’re not smart enough to come up with our own words, we’ve decided to use symbols instead: + for the survivor/accuser/person who was harmed, and # for the abuser/accused/one who’s fucking up the most.

Also, we’re gonna use gender neutral language.  # is male in somewhere around 90% of domestic violence cases (ongoing abuse between partners/lovers).  But we also know that domestic violence occurs in 1/4 of all relationships, het, homo or otherwise.  Not only is it important for queer folks to be able talk about the violence in their/our relationships, but it’s important for us to acknowledge that women can also be jerks.  We’re all capable of a full range of human expression, even the shitty kinds.

pg. 8

We like to *#$!%@&!We wrote this the way we talk, using language that’s accessible to our community, because this issue is a problem in our community.  We’re not out to save the rest of the world, at least not before 4:00 this afternoon.  But we welcome anyone who wants to translate the zine into other dialects so it can be useful in different communities.

pg. 8

1.4 When, how and for whom is this useful?

Not all communities have tons of people standing around just waiting for the opportunity to do support.  Probably this zine will work best in larger, or more established communities.  That doesn’t mean you can’t take it and adapt it for your situation.  [...]

The support process is going to work best if you look at this stuff and talk about it with your buddies way before a crisis looms in on the horizon.  Study groups are great (we love ours) or you can just chew on it for a while with a good friend.  Crises are mega‐fucking‐hard to deal with even when everyone’s prepared and on their best behaviour.  And getting folks in the community talking about this subject is half the battle.  So what are you waiting for?

But... of course we don’t (yet) live in a utopia, so if the shit has already hit the fan and you’re reading this on the way to help out Jean Doe, go for it.  Under one condition: don’t even think about doing it all yourself!  Support (like revolution) is a cooperative team sport.  WARNING! DANGER!  If you try to be someone’s sole support person you will get discouraged and burned out to a crisp.  You’re not a superhero even if you have the cool outfit.

pg. 9
A bunch of superheroes with cool outfits.

Sometimes + will come asking for support, but not always.  If you see bruises on someone, or a friend confides in you about something their lover did that was way uncool, think about how you’re going to talk to them and what you want to do before you do it.

a. They might not recognize the uncool act as abusive.

If you want to talk to them about it, be clear that you think that kind of behaviour is not acceptable without passing judgment on them or #.  Using labels like “jerk,” “asshole” or “loser,” to refer to #, or words like “domestic violence” or “battered women,” might alienate + or make them feel defensive.  There’s a good chance that + cares a lot about # despite what you have perceived as abuse.  Do be concrete as far as the behaviours that you’re concerned about.  [...]

b. They might not want to deal with it.

You can always try to persuade them, but ultimately, it’s their decision (# does not get this option).  If you coerce + into accepting support they don’t really want, you are not actually helping them figure out their shit, but are instead turning into one more person who orders them around.  [...]

c. You might not want to deal with it.

You are not required (or able to) support everyone in the galaxy with a problem.  [...]

d. They might want to deal, but not want to talk about what went down.

Common sense tells us that talking things through makes them better, and that’s probably true in most cases.  But folks who study Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD – a chronic psychological condition that comes from trauma, including intimate violence) say that if someone’s just been through some really crazy shit, it’s not the best thing to make them describe it all right away.  The most important thing is to do whatever they need to calm them down, soothe them and make them feel safe as soon as possible.  Then they can talk when they’re ready, and maybe they won’t be ready for a while – it could even take a month.  In the meantime you can do not‐talking‐it‐out kinds of support for them.

e. Think about what you’re willing to do before you offer.

+’s are dealing with a lot of shit and can be overwhelmed and confused and need a lot of different things.  You get to decide how much you can handle.  It’s better to start slow than to suddenly back out on someone because you got swamped.

f. Look at the power dynamics.

Gender difference is obviously not the only factor that causes power imbalances in a relationship.  Race, culture and class (etc.  etc.) are also factors that affect not only power but also safety, communication styles and access to services.  We decided to refer to power dynamics in general terms throughout the zine, but we encourage you to keep concrete examples in mind as you read along.

pg. 10–11

2. Support Roles

2.2 Physical Help

+ might also just not want # in their face.  Depending on how public a space #’s getting banished from, this can be one of the hardest things to negotiate, (especially if + isn’t comfortable talking about what happened yet) because it means everybody and their mother gets involved, and starts throwing their two cents all over the room.  But exiling # from a house/organisation/infoshop/practice space doesn’t have to last forever.  Usually + and # can go back to standing to be around each other after everything calms down (though, it could take a while).  Proposing that the expulsion last for a month or two, and then be reviewed, could prevent the decision from feeling like a life or death situation that requires everyone to start screaming and getting defensive.

pg. 13

2.3 Emotional Help

Emotional support is a role best filled by a) good friend(s), or at least someone who gets along with the supportee, in case they’re isolated and don’t have a lot of best buddies around.  The emotional support person (ESP) can also challenge the supportee to look at their shit, but the ESP’s main job is to help # or + feel safe enough to do what they need to and continue working stuff out in therapy, mediation, transformative support, how‐not‐to‐be‐a‐violent‐asshole classes etc.  It can be tricky, but you want to try and be nice to them, without excusing their unhealthy behaviour, or vilifying the other party.

When you’re the ESP for + it’s good to remember how complex their emotional soup could be at the moment.  Most likely there were good parts that kept them in the relationship with the other person, and they probably miss them, even if all they’re telling you is what a jerk off that person has been for the past 6 months.  They might be confused and just want to hibernate and not deal with anything.  Part of your job is to lay out a bunch of options and help them talk out what their needs are, because they might not be able to articulate them very well.  But it’s important that, if they want support, they be the ones who decide what that support is going to look like.  Don’t make decisions for or push shit on them.  Their empowerment process includes taking responsibility for their own life.

pg. 13–14

2.4 Transformative Help

Before we get into detail, we want to warn y’all that doing transformative support requires a set of skills similar to the ones used for counselling, mental health work, and survival on the street.  If you and your pals are interested in learning this kind of support, send a couple of people to a training, for example, the kind of trainings done by suicide prevention hotlines, by some domestic violence shelters for volunteers, etc.  Then do some role‐plays, and practice on each other before you try it in the real world.  It’s not nice to use people who are freaking out as guinea pigs.

pg. 17

Listening and sitting quietly with your emotions while someone is telling (or denying) the gruesome details of abuse is hard work.  You’re gonna need an escape valve.  If you try and swallow it, be assured that it will come out later in some totally inappropriate way during one of your sessions.  Also, you need to be able to check each other if shit gets out of control.  Like if you start either hating or loving the person you’re supporting.  It’s super common for people doing this kind of work to end up falling madly in love and sleeping with # or +.  When people are that vulnerable, and in the middle of trying to figure out major relationship drama, it confuses everything, as well as fucks up your credibility as a support person, to have sex with them.

pg. 17

The people who do the best transformative work have wrestled their own inner demon(s) and come out on the other side.  They’ve been through a transformative process (not necessarily around intimate violence, it coulda been addiction or severe depression, etc) and know what to expect from people during the different stages of a crisis.

pg. 18

2.4.1 Step‐by‐Step

Step 1 – Find a good spot
This step is the same for both + and #

The first thing you gotta do is create a safe, comfy and private environment to facilitate open communication.  If you’re in a dumpster, close the lid so other people can’t hear, and make sure the trash compactor isn’t going to barge in on you before you’re finished.  Let them know that everything you discuss is 100% confidential, and that you’ve turned off your judgment‐o‐meter.  This process is for them to heal/get better, and the best way to do that is to look really honestly at what happened, leaving all shame and embarrassment aside.

pg. 19
Step 2 – General approach
For +

Tell them you’re there to listen and help look for solutions, but that you don’t have any magic problem‐fixing potions, and you don’t give advice either.  Given the situation, + might not be trusting themselves very much, and they might beg for you to make decisions for them.  Don’t give in.  Use the force.

Challenge + to see their own role in the situation.  This doesn’t mean what # did was +’s fault, but + also needs to look at the dynamic in the relationship and if/how + was contributing to the funk.  In order to prevent this from happening in the future, + needs to figure some stuff out for themselves, whether that means getting better communication skills, learning to set boundaries, or just figuring out how to recognize assholes from three blocks away.

[...]  It doesn’t mean + went out and looked for someone to assault them in order to feel good about themselves, but once the violence already took place, sometimes + will keep pushing the victim button longer than is really helpful for them.  The hardest part of your job is to give that back to them while emphasizing their strenghts.  And without making them feel like a dust‐mite.  You might straight up ask them what they were getting out of the relationship.  It’s important for + to know why they wanted to stay (for however long they did), so they can truly want to get out.

For #

You’re going to have to push and dig.  Remind them they’re here ’cause they want to change, and that it’s only going to work if they’re really honest with themselves.  If they don’t deal with what they did, they’re sentencing themselves to repeating it again later.  One way of establishing enough trust for them to go there is to share stories from your own experience about fucking up and getting through it.  It can be challenging to do that without sounding like you’ve got it all figured out (which usually is pretty alienating) but it’s one tactic.

Another way to get them to look deep into their bag of dirty laundry (which is hard even under normal circumstances for most people) is to walk them through the consequences.  There’s a fine line between threatening someone and letting them know what the real life price is for not dealing.  Like +, # needs to go through their own process, and ideally they get that their life is fucked if they don’t pick up the pieces themselves.  But personal growth isn’t always a strong enough motivating factor.  You might need to remind them that their actions affect the people in the community, and if they don’t shape up, the community gets to affect them back – however it sees fit, and that might not be pretty.

pg. 19–20
Step 3 – Write down the history of abuse
For both + and # (in separate dumpsters of course)

You can be writing down their story while they talk, but whatever you write is for them to keep.  Start with the very first fucked up incident they can remember whether it was verbal, physical, emotional, or otherwise.  If they start with something physical, ask questions to see if they had any inklings that something wasn’t right before that – arguments, negative comments, emotional blackmail, etc. and include that stuff too.  Continue through to the most recent events.  During this part you are mostly listening and asking questions.

pg. 20
Step 4 – Take a break if you haven’t already

Air out the dumpster, stretch your legs and dig around again to see if there’s any more chocolate.

pg. 21
Step 5 – Look at what you wrote
For both + and # (but not together)

Read the whole thing back to them and add stuff that got left out.  Now you get to make comments.

  • Review the cycle of violence and show them where you see that playing out in their story.  Remind them that violence is a common social disaster.  They don’t get to take all the credit for inventing these relationship patterns.

  • Help them look at what part each person played, and where their own responsibility lies.  Point out the spots where you can see their strengths, plus the things they did to try and change or leave the situation while it was happening.  Talk about the beliefs and fears that kept them from taking off and helped them excuse the bullshit.

  • Give them props for asking for help.  Their feelings, desires and needs are important!

pg. 21
Step 6 – Make a plan
For both + and # (somewhere far far away from each other)

Talk about their options from here on out.  Try and get them to focus on themselves – changing the other person is not their job.  What are their goals and desires?  What do they want their life to look like, both in the immediate future and in general?  What do they need to get there?  [...]  Write out the plan.  Start out short and sweet.  Don’t pile on too much.  It’s important for the plan to be successful in order for # or + to want to keep the process going, so a small, simple plan is going to be more helpful than a big, complicated one.  It should include a timeline and support folks who are going to check in with them periodically.  And it’s good to rewrite the plan frequently, maybe even every time you hang out.  Keep re‐writing it to keep it both helpful and manageable.

For +

[...]  It’s possible + is going to want to do something you think is stupid, like getting back with #, and you’re going to be tempted to try and talk them out of it.  Don’t do it.  In the long run you’re not helping them out that way.  Instead, walk them through the probable outcome of that decision (without giving advice), and then respect whatever it is they decide to do.  The only way to learn how to make good decisions is by making them yourself.

For #

# can generate ideas for their plan, and so can + and people in the community too.  + will most likely have specific requests or restrictions for #.  If the whole affair is public knowledge, folks in the community might decide that in order for # to get to go to the crochet‐your‐own‐black‐hoody classes, # has to respect +’s wishes.  And there needs to be some way of making sure # is actually sticking to the plan.# might be accepting the accountability process in good faith because they really want to change, or # might be dragging their feet, or # might be lying their head off in order to get whatever carrot is hanging at the end of the plan‐stick.  Regardless, # needs to have someone checking up on them to make sure it’s all coming along good.

pg. 21–22

2.4.2 Communication between Teams

Obviously # and + each have their own, separate transformative support team.  But it’s important for # and +’s teams to be talking to each other during the whole TS process.#’s team needs to know where to push, and how to help # formulate a realistic plan.  If # wants to join the radical cheerleaders as a way to get out excess aggressive energy, it would be crucial for #’s team to know if + is already in that group, and had specifically asked # not to come around.  Support team info sharing also helps find inconsistencies, and helps keep # and + more honest.  Especially if they’re staying together.  Most everyone will flow you a certain amount of bullshit.  Don’t take it personally.  [...]

If # and + know that their own personal TST is also getting the other side of the story, it can help keep their story from becoming a great work of fiction.  It can also help the TS team identify a cry for help.# may not be capable of asking for further restrictions or accompaniment.  But if everyone knows that # is banned from Punk Rock Central for the next three months, and then # suddenly blurts out to you that they’re planning on going to the Neurosis show there this Friday, # might be asking for someone to help them figure out a way not to.

pg. 22–23

3. The Support Process

3.1 Taking Care of Yourself as a Support Person

First off, when you become a support person you are taking on a fucking huge responsibility that takes a lot of time and energy.  So if you start feeling stressed out be sure to take the time to take care of yourself.  Remember you are not perfect and you are not responsible for saving lives or keeping people from being more broken.  You are there to remind them of what healthy, respectful relationships can be like, [...] and to encourage them to remember who they are, and who they want to be.  Mistakes happen often, especially if the person you are supporting is unclear about what they want or need, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

pg. 25

Violence is traumatic for everyone involved, even the support people.  When you take on this work make sure you have a space to react to the fucked up shit you are going to hear.  It’s best if you can react to it when you are not around the person you are supporting; they usually have too much on their minds to support you (although occasionally they appreciate knowing that other people get freaked out by this stuff too).

pg. 25

One of the hardest things to deal with is often the aftermath of the situation.  It can seem really fucked up, and support people can get really fried and pissed off, if the couple decide to get back together.  As a support person you will probably hear most of the dirt and frustrations which make one outcome seem the only sane way to go.  [...]

If you start to feel like you know exactly what should happen then the people you are supporting can lose their own agency to make a choice through your pressure.  This can keep people trapped in victim mode where they feel disempowered.  It’s also stressful for support people because you are then required to carry the weight of making decisions for another person.  In the end this will make you tired and the other person will not truly make their own decisions which is important so that people can get into better relationships in the future, rather than repeating the same old shit.

pg. 25–26

When people come out of fucked up situations they are often looking for security and connection with others.  This can leave them extremely vulnerable and make them turn towards you for that connection.  Sexual intimacy is one way to create a connection with someone but if you find yourself feeling those feelings, back off and wait until the person has been out of the relationship for long enough to have a clear head about what they want in a relationship with you.

pg. 26

3.2 How do you Talk About a Conflict with Other People?

As a support person in a situation you might have a lot of people asking you questions about what happened.  How you answer those questions will in part determine what rumours get circulated.  It is important to be honest and not alarmist.  This can be hard to do if you are pissed at either person, but remember situations are rarely if ever improved by lynch mobs out to get “the bad guy”.

It is also important to ask the supportee how many details they want revealed.  They may not want everyone all up in their business.  Or they may not know what the hell they want.  If this is the case give them some options, such as; Is it all right to tell people about x, y and z?  Should I not tell any details and just say that you are both having a hard time? Are there any people you do/don’t want to know anything?

Be as specific and clear in what you are asking as possible.  Make sure you take the time to encourage the person you are supporting to be clear with you about what you want.  This is often extremely difficult to do without guiding them in one direction or another, but with time and patience the supported and his/her support group can figure out what will work.

pg. 26

3.3 How to deal with reluctant jerks

If you can find people who are close to # and think that what they did was fucked up and needs to be addressed by the community, have them talk with each other.  It’s important to express care for # and let them know you want them to stay around.  It may take a lot of discussion over a long period of time to get # to agree to work on their shit.  If no one is close to the reluctant person then have someone who is at least semi‐neutral talk to them.

pg. 28

If # refuses to engage with you at all despite your best efforts, or if they are still being violent, you have little option but to exile them in style (this could include baseball bats).  Make sure you put the word out about the asshole to other communities so the individual cannot pull the same shit there.

pg. 28

3.4 Safety precautions around leaving an abusive relationship

Remember that leaving is the most dangerous time in the relationship.  Even if # hasn’t been physically abusive up til now, that doesn’t mean they won’t start.  Seriously.  People get agro and do crazy shit you might not expect.  So if you’re encouraging + to leave, make sure they have a support network to back them up.  If + doesn’t and you can’t help create one, at least help them figure out other places they could go, like women’s shelters, a friend’s house, New Zealand, etc.

pg. 30

3.5 Common fucked up behaviours

The tricky part is that a lot depends on context and interpretation.  Shouting, for example, can be an accepted style of communication for some people.  Accompanying someone everywhere is some people’s idea of a loving connected relationship.  Unfortunately there is a thin line between what is promoted as “true love” and what is used to control and intimidate.  The bottom line is that if you’re unhappy, that’s a sign that something needs to change, whether or not you decide to label it as abuse.  Being in a relationship doesn’t mean that the other person can read your mind, or even that they have to do everything exactly the way you want to.  It does mean that they should care enough to listen and try to work shit out.

pg. 31

3.6 Callin’ the Cops

So we all know the cops and their systems are fucked up.  One of the main reasons for this zine is to encourage people to come up with community‐based solutions to avoid calling them.  This may not always work and you might be faced with a situation where cops are your only viable option, since community support systems might not be in place yet, or might not be accessible to you.  If your life is in immediate danger call the cops.  They still might not get there in time, (or do much to help even when they arrive), but their presence can sometimes help to keep you from getting hurt in that moment.

pg. 32

In the end you are the only one who knows the direct reality of your situation.  DO NOT PUT YOUR LIFE AT RISK TO PROTECT # FROM THE SYSTEM.  But don’t expect that system to be supportive of you either.

pg. 32

3.7 What do positive relationships look like?

yummy relationships are ones where you:
  • openly express your feelings, thoughts, and desires
  • pursue what you really want to do with your life
  • share time and experiences and feel companionship
  • work together on difficult issues in the relationship
  • work out solutions together equitably
pg. 34