We bring our biases to how we make sense of what is happening. We are influenced by personal experiences, histories and the ways we have seen interpersonal violence play out in our communities and social networks.
This can lead to confusing feelings.
Think about your own experiences about violence . . . How could they influence you?
- Do you have a personal experience of violence?
- Did you experience or witness violence as a child?
- Are you angry at yourself for being hurt? For hurting others? For standing by when someone else was getting hurt?
- Are you angry at others for being hurt?
- Did your experiences of harm end well? End badly?
- What lessons did you learn about violence? How might they influence you now?
Take some time to reflect about your experiences and beliefs and how they might positively or negatively influence you now.
How can your experiences or beliefs make you especially useful or knowledgeable?
How can your experiences or beliefs make some roles difficult for you to take?
Do you need your own support to be part of an intervention? What would that look like?
Common confusing questions especially for allies
- What if the person harmed is annoying or hard to sympathise with?
- What if you like the person doing harm more than the person they hurt?
- What if the person doing harm is your friend or whanaunga?
- What if you get angry at the person harmed? What if you get angrier at the person harmed than at the person who hurt them?
- What if you think you are putting too much pressure on the person doing harm?
- What if you wish everyone would just forgive and forget?
Violence is often used to isolate the person being harmed. They may seem unreliable, over-sensitive, depressed, unpredictable, anxious, resentful or short-tempered. These are common reactions to living with violence. At the same time, the person hurting them may seem charming, fun, sincere, sympathetic to their difficult partner and easy to support. They are not scared and stressed. They are in control.
People being hurt often doubt their decision to change the relationship or leave the person hurting them. Fear, guilt, self-doubt, love and pressure from other people means most people will go back and forth on what they think is happening, what they think of the person hurting them, and what they want to do. This can be frustrating to people who are trying to help.
Many of us feel uncomfortable about confrontation and conflict. Not wanting to get involved can lead to resenting the person harmed, and to feeling empathy for the person doing harm. Likewise, many of us remember feeling shame for things we have done. This can lead to feeling more sympathy for the person doing harm than for the person who has experienced their violence and abuse.
These feelings are common. But they can lead to interventions that actually support violence, rather than reduce it.
Get real about your biases: Questions to ask yourself
These questions aren’t about judging you—everyone has biases. By thinking about why you are reacting to the situation the way you are, you can see it better, and work out the best roles for yourself.
- Do you like one person more than the other?
- Are you more connected to one person than the other (through work, neighbourhood, organisation, church, sports team, etc)?
- Do you relate to one person or admire them more than the other?
- Do you find one person more sympathetic than the other?
- Do you depend on or get something from one person more than the other? Do you fear that you have something to lose?
- Do you have biases about
- gender or sex
- class or income level
- level of education
- immigration status
- physical or mental ability
- physical appearance or attractiveness
- where someone is from
- emotional, financial or other dependence?
Questions about the person harmed
- Is the person harmed acting angry, weak, manipulative or another behaviour you don’t like? Could it be because of repeated exposure to violence?
- Have you heard stories about the person harmed that make you like or believe them less?
- Do you think that the person harmed is so annoying that you can understand why someone would want to hurt them?
- Does the person harmed remind you of someone you think deserves violence?
Questions about the person doing harm
- Has the person doing harm been able to charm or influence people to excuse their violence?
- Does the person doing harm have a story that makes you feel sorry for them?
- Have you heard stories about the person doing harm that make you feel closer or more sympathetic to them?
- Does the person doing harm act better in public than in private?
- Do you like or admire the person doing harm so much that you don’t want to believe they are violent, or you want to ignore and make excuses for their violence?
- Does the person doing harm remind you of someone you like, so you want to believe they weren’t violent or they had a good reason?
- Do you depend on the person doing harm in some way? Could you be harmed or lose something if you don’t take their side?
How did it go? What did you learn?
Violence is wrong regardless of who is more likeable. Confronting someone you care about can be the best way to show that you care, and that you are by their side in a meaningful way.