I want to help someone in a domestic violence situation
On this page:
If you know or see that someone is a victim of domestic violence, or is in danger and needs urgent help, call the NSW Police on Triple Zero 000. You don't have to give your name, you can remain anonymous.
Is someone you know being abused?
Do you suspect that your friend, neighbour, co-worker, sister, mother, relative or someone you know is, or could be, a victim of domestic and family violence?
Below are some signs you may have observed that someone may be experiencing domestic violence.
- she seems afraid of her partner or is always very anxious to please him
- she often cancels plans at the last minute
- she seems afraid something may make her partner angry
- she stops seeing friends or family
- stops her phone calls when her partner comes into the room
- her partner continually phones or texts her when she is out of the house
- her partner is ‘jealous’ and ‘possessive’ and accuses her of seeing other men
- her partner seems overly attentive, remains constantly by her side or is watchful about who she talks to
- she has become anxious or depressed, quieter and may have lost her confidence
- has bruises, sprains or cuts on her body that she says are 'accidents'
- her partner controls the family's finances, gives her no access to money or she must justify every cent she spends
- her partner controls her activities, the way she dresses or her contact with friends and family
- she says her partner wants her to leave her job
- her partner ridicules or insults her publicly or you sense volatility in his comments
- her or her children's behaviour has changed, and she appears frightened or exhausted
This describes violence in a heterosexual relationship, but violence occurs in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) relationships. Read How you can help from sayitoutloud.org.au.
Perhaps you feel her problem will "work itself out" but domestic and family violence doesn't usually end until action is taken to stop it.
It can be hard to know what to do. You, like most people, could be reluctant to intrude or discuss something so intimate.
What you may be thinking
I shouldn't get involved in a private family matter. Domestic violence is not just a family problem. It's a crime with serious consequences for your friend, her children and the entire community.
She must be doing something to provoke his violence. Problems exist in many relationships but using violence to resolve them is never acceptable.
The violence can’t really be that serious. Domestic violence includes emotional abuse, threats, pushing, punching, slapping, choking, sexual assault, and assault with weapons. It's rarely a one-time thing, it usually happens over and over again, and can increase in frequency and become more severe each time. Any act of domestic violence is something to be taken seriously.
If it was really bad, wouldn't she just leave? For most people, the decision to end any relationship is not easy. Leaving a violent relationship is even harder.
There are many reasons why it may be hard for her to leave including:
- her emotional ties to her partner give her hope that the violence will end
- she may think the abuse is her fault and if she changes the domestic violence will stop
- she may be financially dependent on him because he controls all the money in the family, she may not be allowed to work, or she is a full-time mother
- she may be worried about where she and her children will live and how she will manage financially
- she may be committed to the relationship or the belief that marriage is forever
- she may be committed to the belief that the children need to live with both parents
- she may be worried about being sent back to her original country if she is an immigrant
- she may be experiencing pressure from her family or community to stay with her partner
- she may be afraid of coping by herself
- she may not know about available support and resources, or social and justice systems may have been unhelpful to her in the past
- she may have been threatened that he will harm her, himself, her family or the children if she leaves him
Doesn't she care about what's happening to her children? Your friend is probably doing her best to protect her children from violence. She may feel that the abuse is directed only at her and doesn't yet realise it effects the children. She may believe her children need a father or she may lack the resources to support them on her own. The children may beg her to stay, not wanting to leave their home or friends. She may fear that if she leaves she will lose custody of her children.
I know him and I really don't think he could hurt anyone. Many abusers are not violent in other relationships. They appear to be very charming and likeable in social situations despite being extremely violent towards their partner in the privacy of their home. This is often what stops many women from leaving as he isn't abusive all the time or to other people. She may fear that if she tells someone about the abuse, no one will believe her because her partner is seen as being a nice guy. Abusers often use this against their victims, telling her, "Nobody will believe you". Abusers can come across as great guys to other people. Just because you've never seen him behave abusively, don't assume he doesn't.
How can she still care for someone who abuses her? Chances are the man is not abusive all the time. He may actually show remorse for his violence, promising that he will change and asking for forgiveness. She, understandably, has hopes for such changes. Their relationship probably involves good times, bad times and in-between times. On average, an abused woman may leave her abuser 7 to 8 times before she breaks away for good.
If she wanted my help, she would ask for it. Your friend may not want to tell you what is going on, feeling you may not understand her situation or that you will judge her. She may be ashamed of what's happening and that may make her seem stand-offish or withdrawn. Talk to her about abuse in a general way. Tell her you're concerned about women who are abused and that you don't blame women for the violence.
Why doesn't she tell someone? Some women keep the violence a secret for reasons such as: fear of judgement or an unsympathetic response, fear that people will blame her, fear that the violence will get worse if outsiders get involved, worry about what the future holds if she leaves her abuser - she may think she won't be able to cope or won't be able to support herself, guilt and shame because she's made to feel that she's responsible for the violence, cultural reasons that prevent her from telling people about the abuse, and fear that her children will be taken away by him or will be put into care.
What to keep in mind
It's helpful if you remember that:
- 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence, or both, perpetrated by someone they know.
- The abuser is the one responsible for the abuse and violence. The victim is not to blame.
- Domestic and family violence is a crime. It's a dangerous situation and should not be taken lightly.
- All women and children have a right to live a life free from violence and abuse.
- Violence is never acceptable and is never considered a part of anyone's culture.
- Many women live with violence and abuse for years before telling someone or getting help because domestic violence follows a cycle.
- The risk of death or injury to a victim is greatest when leaving an abusive relationship or shortly thereafter.
Watch: How to safely support someone experiencing domestic violence
(Video from 1800RESPECT)
How you can help
Many women find it difficult to talk to anyone about the abuse. For many women who are victims of domestic violence, friends and family are often the first people they talk to about it. She may not know how to find help. It takes a lot of time, planning, help and courage to escape domestic violence. It's important for women to know that help is available from people who know and care about the situation.
Approach them respectfully
If you're worried and suspect she's a victim of abuse and violence but she hasn’t opened up to you about it, say something like, “I’m concerned about your safety. I’m worried about you and how you are being treated.”
It’s better to talk about the things you’ve noticed that make you worried, than to give your opinion. You can also try asking questions like:
- "I'm wondering if everything is OK at home?"
- "I noticed you have some bruises. How did that happen? Did someone do that to you?"
- "I've noticed you seem frightened of your partner [or other person you suspect is hurting them]. Is that right? Is everything OK?"
The person may deny there is a problem or avoid the conversation. If this happens, respect her right to privacy and don’t force her to discuss the relationship if she isn't ready. Let her know that you care and are there to listen and support her if she ever wants to talk about anything.
Listen without judging
If she is willing to talk, listen carefully and be empathetic. Make sure you are in a place she feels safe. Believe what she tells you. Never blame her for what's happening or underestimate her fear of danger. Let her know that no one deserves to be abused, beaten or threatened.
Be patient. Don’t insist that she leave her relationship or criticise her for staying. This can be difficult when you are worried that she or her children will be hurt. She has to make the decision herself and in her own time.
Focus on how she is feeling and how she is coping with the domestic violence. For example, ask her, “How have you been managing? How is his behaviour affecting you?”
Acknowledge that domestic violence is complex and confusing. She may try to excuse the abuser's behaviour and blame it on outside factors such financial hardship, job loss, stress, alcohol or drug use.
Try to be sensitive to what she is saying, remembering that it takes a great deal of courage and strength for someone who is living with abuse to share this information. Reassure her that the abuse is not her fault. Focus on supporting her and building her confidence.
Victims of domestic violence live with emotional as well as physical abuse. She's probably been told continually by her abuser that she is a bad woman, bad partner, and a bad mother. She may believe she can’t do anything right and that there really is something wrong with her. Give her emotional support to believe she is a good and worthy person. Help her look at her strengths and skills. Emphasise that she deserves a life free from violence.
Let her know domestic violence is not her fault. Tell her that she does not deserve to be abused. Say things like, “The way he is treating you is wrong, it’s abuse” or “He may feel angry but he has a choice in how he responds in this situation. He can walk away and go into another room.” Anger is not an excuse for domestic violence.
Allow her to make her own decisions
As you listen, try to understand the many obstacles, such as the cycle of violence, that stop her from leaving. It's usually very complex. Focus on supporting her in making her own decisions. If she is being abused then the abuser is exercising a lot of control over her life. It's very important that she is encouraged to make choices for herself even if it means staying with the abuser for now. It's often the first step towards freedom. Even if she leaves him and then goes back, don't withdraw your support.
Do not expect that she will leave the relationship. It can be very disturbing to know someone you care about is experiencing domestic violence. But ending any relationship is difficult. Ending a domestic violence relationship can be extremely difficult.
Help her find a domestic violence support service
Gather some information about available domestic violence support services in her area. Many women who have found freedom describe someone they knew (a neighbour, doctor, friend) offering support and referring them to a support service. Let her know she is not alone and that people are available to help her. Assure her that they will keep information about her private. Encourage her to speak to the Domestic Violence Helpline or the 1800RESPECT counselling service, both are open 24/7.
Help her stay safe
She may decide to remain in the relationship or return to the abuser after a temporary separation. Don't pressure her to leave but let her know that you are afraid for her and her children and help her consider how dangerous the violence may be.
Help her make a safety plan. Encourage her to keep a diary of what's happening to her if it is safe to do so. Help her think about steps she can take if her partner becomes abusive again. Make a list of people to call in an emergency. Suggest she hides a suitcase of clothing, money, Centrelink cards, bank books, birth certificates and school records for future emergencies. Acknowledge that she may be in the most danger while she's trying to leave.
If you see an assault in progress, take action. Call the police on triple zero 000. Don't assume that someone else has done so. If you are in your car honk your horn until a group gathers, he stops hitting her or the police come. These situations can be dangerous so whatever you do be sure to keep yourself safe. But do take action. At the very least, watch them. Being a witness in a way that lets him know that you see him may reduce his level of violence.
Help her find a safe place
What to avoid when talking to her
When talking to your friend or family member there are some things to avoid to ensure she does not feel judged or criticised or too afraid or ashamed to talk about the domestic violence.
Avoid blaming her for the domestic violence. It's likely that your friend may be blaming herself for the domestic violence and may even say to you: “It’s my fault”. It's important not to agree with her as no one deserves to be abused no matter what. It's a crime. Suggesting she must have done something wrong to provoke the abuse is not supportive. For example do not ask: “What did you do to make him treat you like that?” This suggests that it's somehow her fault. It isn't. Her partner chooses to perpetrate violence against her to maintain power and control in the relationship.
Avoid blaming alcohol, other drugs or mental health issues for his domestic violence behaviour. Alcohol, other drugs and mental health issues do not cause domestic violence, his need for power and control does. Many people use alcohol and other drugs and are never abusive to their partners.
Avoid telling her what to do. When you care about someone and want them to be safe, it's understandable you want to tell them what they should do. Don't say to her, "If it was me ...". It’s not you, or about you, so try to keep focused on supporting the victim without speculating on what you might do if you were in her shoes.
She may have lost some of her self-esteem, confidence and decision-making skills due to her partner’s controlling and abusive behaviour. To support her in making a decision, she needs to be able to explore options and make her own choices. This will help her gain back self-confidence. Giving information about domestic violence rather than telling her what to do can support her to make her own choices and decisions.
Avoid making negative comments about her partner. It's understandable that if her partner’s behaviour is abusive you may feel anger, disgust and hatred towards him. However, if you share any negative comments about the partner with her, it may lead to her feeling she needs to protect him and stand up for him. It's not supportive to talk about him. It's supportive to focus on her feelings and safety.
Who you can contact
If you suspect someone you know may be a victim of domestic violence, you can call Crime Stoppers and report your concerns.
Domestic Violence Line
The Domestic Violence Line is a NSW-wide telephone crisis counselling and referral service for women and person who identify as female. It's staffed by trained female counsellors and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
1800RESPECT is a national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and information referral services. It's open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Their website also has a services directory.
Other support services
There are many non-profit organisations that help victims of domestic and family violence and their friends and family. Here is a list. You may also want to read about available programs and helpful resources such as apps.
Remember to look after yourself
Supporting a friend or relative who is being abused can be frightening, stressful and sometimes frustrating. You need to look after yourself too. If you need to talk to someone, call Lifeline. It's a 24-hour support service.
(Some of the information on this page is adapted from "Helping the Battered Woman, A Guide for Family and Friends", National Woman Abuse Prevention Project 1989.)