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First off I would like to say that I am aware that the stack exchange site has an official policy on posts that are suicidal or seeking professional help but I feel this may be slightly different.

My question is what should we (especially lower rep users) do if we find a post where we suspect the OP is being emotionally or physically abused? Should we handle it similar to a suicidal post where we flag it for moderator attention and vtc? What if the particular question is not necessarily "vote to close" worthy but implies that there could be greater issues?

  • Feel free to mark as duplicate or close as necessary. However I was unable to find a satisfactory duplicate as searching for "abuse" leads to very different questions. – user15922 Apr 17 '18 at 19:09
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    I think we should make a distinction between questions where in order to answer it you have to address the abuse, and questions where the abuse is the context rather than the focus of a question. – Jesse Apr 18 '18 at 4:08
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    Why would this be a good policy? What's the point of closing those questions and pushing those people out of the community? – Glen Pierce Apr 19 '18 at 13:26
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    @GlenPierce My concern is that when faced with the fact that someone is being abused users may offer answers or advice that does more harm than good. My goal isn't to push these people away. It is to protect them. – user15922 Apr 19 '18 at 13:37
  • Then flag the answers that are harmful. – Glen Pierce Apr 19 '18 at 13:54
  • @GlenPierce True but I think it would be better try to prevent harmful answers than to just try to delete them after the fact or after the OP has had a chance to read them and take the advice to heart. Proactive > Reactive – user15922 Apr 19 '18 at 14:20
  • What leads you to believe they won't simply go ask someone else for advice and get terrible in-person advice that no one else can see and point out the flaws in? – Glen Pierce Apr 19 '18 at 14:32
  • @GlenPierce They might do that anyway. That's not the point. It doesn't so much matter what they do where... after all we can't dictate their every move... but what does matter is what we do here which is something we can dictate. But questions/concerns like yours are also why I am asking this question. I personally would prefer to leave it up to either community consensus or direct policy rather than leave it up to individual decisions because that could cause all kinds of arguments about how to handle it when a post like that comes along. – user15922 Apr 19 '18 at 14:46
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    Related on The Workplace: workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4990/…, and this comes up every now and then on Parenting also – Tas Apr 19 '18 at 22:26
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If it is a valid IPS question and does not involve threats of physical harm, leave it open.

If it's off-topic: easy solution, close but leave a comment pointing to relevant resources.

If it sounds like OP is in physical danger: this main meta post is focused on posts from suicidal users, but is relevant to physical abuse as well.

  1. Close the post as Off Topic [with a note pointing to resources]
  2. Flag for a moderator who can lock or delete the question to prevent discussion from continuing in the comments.
  3. For any credible threat of bodily harm - whether targeted at the author themselves or someone else - use the contact us option at the bottom of any page on the site to let us know about this. If need-be, we'll follow up to make sure the situation is handled appropriately. Moderators can and usually should use the “contact community team” option in the “mod → actions” menu on the user’s profile page.

In situations like that, I think the best answer is "contact a local shelter" - the internet can help you fortify yourself mentally against verbal or emotional abuse but not against physical threats. So we should close such posts and point them to the appropriate resources.

Otherwise, I think these are answerable. If you suspect abuse, you can...

  • Describe the red flags. Explain why you think the behavior described in the post crosses a line. Just don't go beyond that and try to diagnose OP's partner, for example; that is something that should be left to professionals.
  • Suggest some resources. Even if you aren't 100% sure, a professional would be able to tell if it's just an "ordinary" bad situation or something worse.

For example, your answer might include something like

I'm not a professional, but there are some red flags in your description: [examples] - that's not a respectful or loving way to treat someone close to you. I encourage you to [talk to a therapist, find a local shelter, call a helpline, etc.] for support if [this continues, you feel unsafe, etc.].

Examples

We've had a couple questions here already about suspected abuse.

We can also take cues from an older SE site, Parenting, which also gets questions about difficult situations. For example, I am 21 and I am terrified beyond belief of my father, and What do I do about my abusive father?.

These are both about how to cope with a situation that OP knows is abusive. Answers focus on how to obtain help: "call a shelter", "call Social Services", "talk to a school teacher or counselor", "find a trusted family member or friend to stay with", etc. which is something answers here could do as well.

These aren't the same as suicidal or mental illness questions

I think it is feasible for a layperson to research and understand how to handle an abusive situation well enough to write a good answer.

Questions about suicide or mental illness are different: us ordinary folk can provide friendly support, but not solutions (and we're a questions-and-answers site, not a questions-and-friendly-support site). Furthermore, mental health issues are at their root an intrapersonal problem, whereas abuse happens in relationships and so is interpersonal.

For example, if a friend sat down with me and said, "I have bipolar, how do I deal with it?", I can't solve their problem. I can say "I'm sorry to hear that, I'll be here for you" - but in the end, they need a psychiatrist to figure out and treat the root of the problem.

But if a friend said, "I'm in an abusive relationship, how do I deal with it?" I can help them come up with a solution. I can say "Okay, talk to X, tell them Y, call a shelter, etc." This is something ordinary people have been doing for many years, and there are accessible resources on the internet, so answers can (and should) be backed up to explain their recommendations. So, I think it's reasonable for our community to generate useful and quality answers for these situations, given the caveats at the beginning of my post.

  • This answer sounds good to me. Question though. What about if the question is directly about the abuse. Such as something like "How can I talk to my abusive partner about my feelings/the abuse?" Would that fall into the category of needing a professional? I feel like the wrong advice in that type of question could cause the OP more pain or harm. I agree with your conclusion that we can probably come up with how to deal with abuse (implied or otherwise) in general. But what about questions about approaching the abuser? I think Jesse makes a good point in the comment on my OP that there might be – user15922 Apr 19 '18 at 18:33
  • a difference. I realize that this might be an extension of my original question but I think we should account for the difference if there is one. – user15922 Apr 19 '18 at 18:33
  • @IceC I think the first question I linked is similar to that? Although your comment made me realize I didn't really distinguish between types of abuse (e.g. verbal vs. physical) and maybe that should be addressed as well... will think on it some more.. – Em C Apr 19 '18 at 18:50
  • I probably wasn't very clear with my comment but yes the worry in my comment stems more from the physical abuse side of things rather than the verbal. I think it's an important difference. – user15922 Apr 19 '18 at 18:54
  • @IceC , see update. I agree that is a very important difference, and IMO physical abuse crosses a line into needing help "on the ground" that we can't provide. – Em C Apr 19 '18 at 19:44
  • Great edit! I highly agree with your solution here! Unless the community or a policy can prove otherwise I feel that this is the best we can do in these cases. – user15922 Apr 19 '18 at 19:55
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Do not vote to close such questions on the basis that they might get bad answers. Try to answer the question and be helpful. Do not push such people out of our community.

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    Can you provide some explanation for why you think this is the correct course of action? – sphennings Apr 19 '18 at 17:42

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