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how to support women who face gender-based violence

How to support women facing gender-based violence

Open-Ended Questions

Why Use Open Ended-Questions
These questions will allow your peer to begin talking and enable her to choose the concerns she would like to share and explore.

“What” and “How” questions are preferable to “Why” questions.

Open questions encourage a person to explore their thoughts and feelings by leaving the person free to answer in many ways.

Closed questions force specific answer.

Example of open-ended questions

  • What does it feel like?
  • Tell me more about?
  • How are you feeling right now?
  • What would you like to talk about?
  • Where would you like to begin?
  • How is that (Specific) for you?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • Can you tell me what that means to you?
  • What do you imagine?
  • What have you thought of?
  • What would it be like?
  • How do you see things changing?
  • What would you like to do about?
  • I’m wondering?
  • What’s that like?
  • What can you think of?
  • What’s important for now?
  • How would you like things to be?

The following are suggestions NOT recommendations on how to navigate such situations.



Encourage them to tell their story, but give them lots of time to do this.

Encourage them to look after herself.

Encourage them not to make any major decision at this time.

Encourage them to see a counsellor if needed.


Reassure them that they do not deserve the abuse.

Reassure them that you believe her story.

Reassure them that they are not the only person this happens to.

Reassure them that this problem can be solved. This will begin their process of turning despair into hope for change.


Allow them to feel bad – It is OK and normal.

Allow them to feel: all feelings are healthy, even anger.

Allow them to tell you their story over and over again.

Allow yourself to show you are a real person: “I don’t have all the answers”.


Remember they are the expert in her own life.

Remember you are not there to tell them what to do-you, you are there as a listener.

Remember to talk about safety issues.

Remember to ask if it’s okay to touch or hug them.

Remember to respect their decision.

Remember to validate their feelings.

Remember to listen.


Focus on strengths; turn negatives into positives.

Focus their energies. They may tend to ramble, to be disjoined in their thinking or to be overwhelmed by their own story.

Focus on change, not just acceptance or adaption.

Focus on their strengths: turn the negatives into positives.

Focus on their safety and yours.

Focus is on change or empowerment, from victim to survivor.


Ensure confidentiality.

Ensure your messages clear and simple (e.g., their safety and their children’s is your first priority).


Provide information on abuse and options available.

Provide information, such as resources.

Provide them with realistic feedback based on what they told you.


Help them identify and talk about their feelings.

Help them broaden her supports, decrease their isolation.

Help them deal with any physical complaints they may have.

The following information is adapted from the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre Peer Support Handbook