What do you do if you suspect that someone you know is experiencing domestic and family violence?
What actions can you take if someone you know is being abused and you feel powerless to help?
And how do you support a friend or family member who has confided in you?
It is important to know that there ARE things you can do. You can be part of the solution. And your actions may even save someone’s life.
Remember, domestic and family violence does not have to be physical violence. There are many different types of abuse that are just as serious and just as dangerous.
And it is important that you trust your instincts. You don’t have to be certain that there is abuse happening before you act. Acting early could prevent the situation from escalating.
Signs of domestic and family violence
If you suspect someone you know is experiencing domestic and family violence, you’ve probably noticed some of these signs and behaviours.
- seems afraid of their partner
- eager to please their partner
- appear anxious, unusually quiet, lacking in confidence, withdrawn
- have a controlling, obsessive or jealous partner
- have a partner who has threatened to harm them or harm their children or pets
- have a partner who is depressed or suicidal
- know or suspect that they’re being stalked
- receive constant texts or phone calls from their partner
- seem neglected
- appear to not have access to money or belongings
- have physical injuries
REMEMBER: If you’re worried about someone’s immediate safety phone Triple Zero (000)
What you can do to help
Wait for the right time
If you suspect that someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence you should wait until the time is right to approach them. This means waiting until they are alone and able to speak with you safely. It will help if you approach them in a supportive way, let them know you are worried about them and you are there for them if they want to talk.
Understand they may not want to talk yet
Do not be surprised if they do not want to talk about it. Sometimes they might even get defensive or deny there is a problem. They might truly believe that what is happening is not domestic violence or they might just be scared or ashamed and not want to talk about it.
Wait for them to open up
It is important that you support their decision not to talk about it, but let them know that you’re there if they decide they do. Tell them you’ll support them no matter what. Sometimes it just takes a little time for people in this situation to feel comfortable enough to open up and talk about it.
Respect their decisions
When they are ready to talk it is important that you listen without judgement. You have to respect their right to make their own decisions, even if you don’t agree with them.
What you should say to them
Listening and taking them seriously are the most important things you can do for a person confiding in you about their domestic violence situation. But there are also important things you can say …
- Tell them it is not their fault. Tell them the way they’re being treated is wrong.
- Let them know they deserve to be treated with respect, especially by those who say they love them.
- Ask them how they are coping, how they are feeling.
- Focus on their safety and the safety of their children. Tell them you are “afraid for their safety”.
- Remind them to call the police on Triple Zero (000) if they feel afraid for their own immediate safety or the safety of their children.
- Let them know there is help available. Encourage them to visit this website, phone us on 4953 1788 or drop in to see us at the Domestic Violence Resource Centre, 418 Shakespeare St.
- Let them know that there is also legal help available and they’re able to apply for a Domestic Violence Order.
- Make sure they know that domestic violence doesn’t just mean physical violence and that it isn’t safe to wait until the abuse they’re experiencing turns violent.
What you should NOT to say
It is understandable that you might feel frustrated by the situation or disgusted and angry at the abuser. But there are some things you should try to avoid doing as they will not help the situation — they’ll just make the person experiencing domestic or family violence feel like they’re being cricitised or judged and they may feel too ashamed or scared to ask for your help again.
- Don’t blame them for the abuse. They probably already blame themselves so it is your job to make them understand that the blame lies solely with the abuser. Do not ask things like “what did you do to make them angry”?.
- Don’t look for excuses. Sometimes you might look for reasons behind the violence, such as drugs, alcohol or mental health issues. These issues don’t cause the violence. Many people who abuse drugs and alcohol or have mental health problems are not violent or controlling towards their partners.
- Don’t tell them what to do. You can certainly give them options and help them explore those options. This will help them gain the confidence they need to make their own decisions. As much as you’ll want to, you can’t make decisions for them.
- Avoid confronting the abuser. This could place your friend or family member in even more danger. It is also putting yourself in danger.
- Avoid putting down the abuser. This is a tough one, because you might be feeling quite extreme negative emotions towards the abuser. But remember, this is not about you, so it is more helpful to focus on the person being abused and how you can support them. If you share you negative feelings, the abuser might be as though they have to defend and make excuses for the person abusing them.