One in four young people report emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from a dating partner each year. This means that you personally know — and come in contact with — many people in your daily life who are experiencing abuse. You can make a positive difference to someone experiencing abuse, whether they’re a family member, friend or even a stranger.
Not sure if someone is in trouble? You might not see dramatic warning signs like black eyes and broken bones, so how can you tell for sure? For one thing, listen to your instincts. You probably wouldn’t be worried without good reason.
Here are some signs to look for that might mean someone you know is in trouble and needs help.
- You notice their partner calls them names or puts them down in front of other people.
- If they talk to other people, their partner gets extremely jealous.
- They apologize for their partner’s behavior and make excuses for it.
- They frequently cancel plans at the last minute for reasons that sound untrue.
- Their partner is always checking up, calling or texting and demanding to know where they’ve been and with who.
- You’ve seen fights escalate to breaking or hitting things.
- They’re constantly worried about upsetting their partner or making them angry.
- They give up things they used to enjoy such as spending time with friends or other activities.
- Their weight, appearance or grades have changed dramatically. These could be signs of depression, which could indicate abuse.
- They have injuries they can’t explain or the explanations they give don’t make sense.
Help a Friend or Family Member
Watching a friend or family member go through an abusive relationship can be very scary and you may feel like you’re not sure how to help them. The decision to leave can only be made by the person experiencing the abuse, but there a lot of things you can do to help your friend stay safe.
What Do I Need to Know?
If your friend or family member is undergoing the serious and painful effects of dating abuse, they may have a very different point of view than you. They may have heard the abuse was their fault and feel responsible. If they do choose to leave, they may feel sad and lonely when it’s over, even though the relationship was abusive. They may get back together with their ex many times, even though you want them to stay apart. Remember that it may be difficult for your friend to even bring up a conversation about the abuse they’re experiencing.
What Can I Do?
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Tell them you’re concerned for their safety and want to help.
- Be supportive and listen patiently. Acknowledge their feelings and be respectful of their decisions.
- Help them recognize that the abuse is not “normal” and is NOT their fault. Everyone deserves a healthy, non-violent relationship.
- Focus on your friend or family member, not the abusive partner. Even if your loved one stays with their partner, it’s important they still feel comfortable talking to you about it.
- Connect them to resources in their community that can give them information and guidance. Remember, AWARE (awareak.org) can help.
- Help them develop a safety plan.
- If they break up with the abusive partner, continue to be supportive after the relationship is over.
- Even when you feel like there’s nothing you can do, don’t forget that by being supportive and caring — you’re already doing a lot.
- Don’t contact their abuser or publicly post negative things about them online. It’ll only worsen the situation for your friend.
Help a Stranger
A community of support is necessary to help a survivor reach safety and peace. Even if you don’t know the person experiencing dating abuse, you have the ability to become involved and try to stop dating abuse when you see it. Intervening can have a positive impact on someone in an abusive relationship and may be the difference between safety and danger. Do your part and speak up against abuse.
You can look for warning signs of abuse to help you identify if the situation is, in fact, abusive. If it feels wrong to you, it probably is. Also, know that even if you don’t feel safe enough to actually intervene, even standing around and letting the couple know that you are watching and are a witness to what is happening can help. Be careful. If you think something might be going on, say something. But if you think it may be unsafe for you to do something, stay back.
Don’t Neglect Your Personal Safety
Your safety is always the highest priority and you won’t be able to give the best support if you’re injured. If for any reason you feel unsafe, do not approach the couple. Alert an authority figure or call the police immediately. If you do intervene and the abuse continues, step away and get help.
~Info taken from loveisrespect.org
How to help someone who you think might be a victim of domestic abuse
If you suspect that someone may be in an abusive relationship, you can try to find a safe space and time to talk to them and let them know that you are there for help and support.
Evidence shows that victims are much more likely to confide in a friend or someone close to them, than to the police or professional services.
Don’t leave it to someone else to start the conversation – in a fifth of cases of domestic abuse last year, nobody else knew what was going on. As one victim explained: “No one asked. No one asked, so I just didn’t tell.”
Always start the conversation face-to-face – if you try and have it over the phone or social media their partner may find the messages and retaliate against them or you. Make sure you won’t be overheard or interrupted and that you are both in a safe place before you start the conversation.
Do not confront the abuser. Do not do anything that may endanger you, the victim or their children.
What to say?
Approach the subject with obvious kindness and concern. Avoid using the labels of ‘domestic abuse’ or ‘domestic violence’ as many people don’t want to identify with these.
To start the conversation, try asking the person how things are in their relationship, or mention things you have noticed in their behaviour or the behaviour of the abuser. For example:
– “We haven’t seen much of you recently, is everything ok?”
– “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down, has anyone upset you?”
– “Wow, they text you a lot – do they do that all the time?”
– “I’m worried about you – I saw the way they looked at you and you seemed scared.”
If the person starts to talk about the abuse, try to listen with an open mind and a supportive attitude – even if you don’t agree with what they say. It can be difficult not to offer opinions about the relationship or the abuser, to criticise or to blame, but this is unhelpful because it can make the person clam up and make them less likely to talk to you later. If the person does not disclose the abuse, respect their wishes but let them know you are always there for help and support.
Don’t pass judgement. Saying things like “Really?! That seems so unlike him” or “It sounds like you are both as bad as each other” is not helpful.
And, be careful not to offer advice – leave that to the experts. Never tell them to leave the relationship immediately, as this can be highly risky and there may be many reasons (fear for themselves and their children, lack of money or risk of homelessness) why they are unable to. The victim is the expert in their own situation.
Important Things to Get Across
- Let them know that you believe them
- Let them know that you want to help
- Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault
- Thank them for their bravery – it takes a lot of courage to open up about something like this
- Let them know that help is out there – make sure they know where to find the contact details of relevant support services and helplines who can help them with safety planning
If they want to find out about what might happen to the perpetrator, and what options are available to them and the authorities, Victim Support has a simple, clear guide on this web page.
You don’t need to have all the answers. Just by listening you will be helping the person to admit what is happening, and this will break the silence around the situation.
Ask them what they want to do, or have happen next, so that they feel in control of the situation.
Ending a relationship with an abusive partner or adult family member is an extremely difficult and risky decision to make and the victim may take some time to decide to do this – and to work out how to do it safely.
Once they’ve opened up to you….
But there are some general tips that you can share with your friend, relative, neighbour or colleague, especially if they are still in the relationship and considering leaving:
- Encourage them to pack an emergency bag and to hide this in a safe place, possibly away from their home, in case they need to leave their house quickly. This might contain important documents such as passports and birth certificates, spare keys to their home or car, money, medications, some clothes and a few of the children’s toys.
- Help them to work out a plan for leaving including who they can call, where they might go, and how they can get there.
- Agree a code word with the person so they can signal to you if they are in danger or distressed and need you to access urgent help on their behalf.
- If they have left the relationship, the person may need to change their contact details and think carefully about who they share them with, because some of the people they know will also know the abuser and may not keep this information secret.
People who have been in an abusive relationship often say how helpful it was to get practical support from the people they know. Here are some examples of support that you may be able to offer:
– Being with them when they contact support organisations or helplines
– Offering to go with them to appointments
– Helping them to move to a safe place
– Letting them stay at your home for a short time
– Looking after their children so that the person has time to think, plan and receive support