Abuse and domestic violence can be confronting, upsetting, frustrating and frightening for friends and family. You may see a strong, outgoing energetic person becoming isolated, withdrawn and anxious. It may be hard to identify and confirm what’s going on. You might even doubt whether the problem can be classified as violence.
If you think there is family and domestic violence in the relationship of someone you love, you may be scared to ask in case you are wrong. You may say nothing because you don’t want to upset, interfere or offend. Because of these concerns, saying nothing can seem like the best option. But the fact is, saying nothing is probably the worst thing you can do.
If you are worried about a friend or family member who is experiencing violence or being abused, how you respond can make a big difference. Talking about what’s going on, identifying and naming it are very powerful ways to help.
Your support can make a huge difference to a person who is experiencing violence.
The most important thing you can do is offer encouragement and support. If a person has trust you enough to discuss their situation your response can confirm they have made the right decision.
Responding without judgment, remaining calm and letting them know you are there for them are all excellent responses. Never minimise or blame the victim or imply it is their fault.
Sometimes people will keep the abuse secret. As a friend you may have concerns but you’re not sure of the signs or you don’t want to pry. You may feel it is awkward to ask and they may respond badly or you may say the wrong thing – but the worst thing you can do is keep quiet.
Signs of abuse and domestic violence
- Personality change – they seems tense, withdrawn, distracted or depressed
- Physical injuries – unexplained or recurring bruises, cuts, soreness, limping (or there may be no physical signs at all)
- Withdrawal/Isolation – they cut off communication with family and friends
- Anxiety – they seem uneasy around their partner, afraid or anxious to please
- Loss of autonomy – their partner controls their movements, their money, their life choices
- Verbal clues – they refer to their partner’s temper, jealousy and bad moods
- Property damage – physical damage to the family home
- Stalking / Surveillance – this can range from constant calls when they are at work or out with friends, to following them or using technology to track their movements.
Sometimes none of these clues are evident. Remember, appearances can be deceiving. If you are told there is violence or abuse but there are no signs, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
“The most important thing my friends did for me? They believed me. They listened. I felt like they were on my side. They supported me and never judged or blamed.”