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Domestic violence, internet support and me

Domestic violence, internet support and me

This article was original printed in our 2009 Quarterly newsletter. At DVRCV, we've seen a steadily increasing demand for online support resources and services for people experiencing or who have experienced family or intimate partner violence.

  • Geographical isolation
  • lack of ‘in-person’ support groups
  • a need for anonymity
  • increased safety, privacy and support at any time of the day

are just some of the reasons people seek online support. Curly, an Our Place Online founding member and administrator, took us on a guided tour through the Our Place Online forum. She explained its features such as safety, links and resources, men and women-only forums and, in particular, give us valuable insight into how Our Place Online came to be, what it means to the administrators, how valuable it is to members and the importance that peer support holds within the principles of the forum. As stated on the website, Forum Administrators ‘will go to extraordinary lengths, quickly, to protect members’ privacy where possible, although we are unable to take ultimate responsibility for a members’ personal safety. We are unpaid volunteers who are peers with our members, not authorities or professionals’. Screenshot of Our Place Online website On its home page, Our Place Online lists plenty of helpful information for people interested in joining, such as

  • internet safety tips for people who are still in an abusive relationship
  • protecting your identity online
  • the role of the administrators
  • how moderating decisions are made, and
  • posting guidelines.

Visit Our Place Online at http://www.our-place-online.net/

Curly's journey with Our Place Online: "Domestic violence, internet support and me"

Nine years ago with my then young teen sons, we loaded what we could and drove away from years of abuse. For me it had been twenty eight years struggling to make the relationship work, wondering why I was so unhappy and could never do anything right. We moved out while he was at work. I had not dared tell anyone what I was doing because on previous occasions he had found out and I had been talked out of leaving by his friends and relatives. Although I knew it was domestic violence I really did not think I would have qualified for help. I never asked. It was a huge relief to be away from him, a dark cloud, a heavy weight had lifted. We could laugh and be ourselves. At the same time I found myself on a huge emotional roller coaster where I would be happy for a while only to find myself not long after crying for hours. I thought I was crazy and I had no one who understood that or the extreme anger that was boiling away on the inside. I tried talking to people but most had no idea what to say and shied away from me.

"After being very isolated I found it far easier to write than to talk to people."

Internet Splat Map from Flickr by jurvetson I did get counselling through Victims of Crime and the community health centre where they also ran a short term support group. These all helped but those sessions were not enough to undo all those years of damage to my self esteem or shut down all the faulty tapes that ran in my head telling me how stupid and useless I was. I really did want a place to connect to others who had similar experiences and understood. After being very isolated I found it far easier to write than to talk to people. It was less intimidating to me typing words that showed up on a screen and I knew no one was forced to read. Although I know it is for many being anonymous was not a big part of it for me although I did like the idea that I could stand next to another forum member and never know it. I was driven to try to understand what had happened to me and why. So once I had internet access I read anything that seemed like it could help me understand. It was by accident that I came across some online support forums for people experiencing domestic violence or abuse.

Finding support on the net

I eventually settled on the biggest and most active forum. It was well moderated and had an attached website with helpful information about abuse written by the site owner an American psychologist. I found that responding to others also helped me with working through my own issues. I did start some posts of my own but they were mostly related to issues I was having with one of my sons. The responses I got were full of kindness, understanding and helpful suggestions. For the first time in years I felt accepted, understood and valued. Most of the time I responded to other people but as I did so I would use parts of my story that were relevant to the poster's topic. Through the repeated telling of these parts of my story I gradually lost my anger the memories lost their impact on me and I was able to gradually let go. The telling became easier. The rollercoaster levelled out.

Becoming a forum admin

After about two years I was stunned to receive an invitation to join the forum administration. My initial reaction was to say no. I really did not believe I was worthy or capable. I did sit with it for a while though and gradually started to think that maybe, just maybe, I might have something to offer - after all the administrators who invited me must have thought so. I accepted. I panicked thinking I had made a huge mistake. I had no clue. One of the longest serving administrators took me under her wing and mentored me. Gradually I learned the ropes and gained confidence. I started to believe in myself and my own judgement more. As a bonus I gradually formed the closest bond of friendship I have ever experienced. The forum was a safe thriving nurturing community for several years, however events came to pass that lead 11 out of the 13 administrators to decide to set up our own independent support forum. In October 2008, Our Place was open for business. Most of the active members of the old forum followed us to the new site. The administrators, along with a solid core of long term members, were the people who had made the old forum the safe and helpful community it had been.

Our Place Online begins

In October 2008, Our Place was open for business. Most of the active members of the old forum followed us to the new site. The administrators, along with a solid core of long term members, were the people who had made the old forum the safe and helpful community it had been. One year on, we have a thriving and active internet community and support group. We are still working on climbing the Google rankings as we need to be found if we are to continue to offer support and advice to others in need. We intend to approach domestic violence organisations from around the world to try to reach as many people who are experiencing domestic violence as possible. We are offering our forum as an extra support for those in need, never as a replacement of local domestic violence services. At the same time we know there will be people whose first attempt to reach out for help will be through the internet. We do encourage them to seek help from their local services and we have a comprehensive list and links to resources around the world. There have been a few times where the internet has proved to be a member's lifeline. There have been times where we were able to help a member being held prisoner because it did not occur to the perpetrator that help could be reached through the computer. Most times though that is not our role. Most of the time we support, validate, advise, encourage, offer cyber hugs and allow people to find and use their voice in a setting where mutual respect is the norm.

An international community

For me this has been a hugely rewarding experience. I do get a lot of pleasure from helping our members. I have grown a lot through the experience and have come to know and believe that I am not invisible and that I do have a voice that can make a difference. I have also come to make some wonderful friends around the world including a very special one. I travelled to the US to meet and spend time with several people I have come to know through the forums. I have also met up with several Australians from various places. Our online community includes people from many countries. Our admin group is currently made up of a diverse group with varied backgrounds that works well together. We are three Australians and nine Americans. I personally have met six or them. While I have made the choice to meet many members in real life it is far from expected. Members can be as private as they wish or as connected as they wish. Although the laws and services may vary domestic violence has a negative impact on people's lives no matter where in the world they live. The experience of being abused hurts no matter where you live. Being heard and understood can help. I think this survivors understanding of each other has no boarders. For some the anonymity that the internet can provide is less intimidating that making a call or talking face to face with someone. Writing worked for me and my screen name is as much a part of me as my given name.

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Photo credits

Photos from Flickr by Lea Creative Commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic and by Steve Jurvetson Creative Commons BY icon