Domestic Abuse – spotting the signs and offering support

With family time increasing and money struggles often apparent the Christmas period can be a time when domestic abuse is more prevalent. Seeing family members at Christmas or friends you don’t see often can also make you worry if you think they may be experiencing domestic abuse. Here I share from my experiences, and those of other survivors of domestic abuse I know, some tips for spotting the signs of abuse and how you can support someone you worry may be a victim.

woman looking over a valley into the distance

Does he/she usually consult their partner before agreeing to anything?
This can be a sign of coercive control, domestic abuse isn’t always physical with bruises and broken bones. If they have to consult their partner before agreeing to anything there is not much you can do to help. Understanding this and not putting pressure on them to make a decision can help lots and reassuring them that you don’t mind whatever they decide can also help. I often felt guilty and felt like I was losing friends if I constantly couldn’t do things as I “wasn’t allowed”, knowing they are there regardless helps. By doing this you do not have to be mentioning domestic abuse or similar but just being supportive can help tremendously.

Does he/she seem to have to hide things from their partner for fear of their reaction?
If they are genuinely scared of their partners reaction they may often tell you not to mention to their partner that they saw you for example. This could be someone who is being abused whether physically, sexually, emotionally or a mixture of those. In my experiences I was often told of for the simplest things and the consequences were varied. If someone you know is worried about their partner finding out about things there is not much you can do other than help them to keep those secrets however petty they may be because you do not know the full reason behind them. Obviously there will be some circumstances when you know it isn’t abuse (eg they are having an affair) but if you are unsure I feel the best thing is to leave them to do what they have to do. Offer friendship and make it clear they can tell you if they need to talk.

Have they admitted abuse and not left?
I know that a few of my closest friends were aware of what was going on with my abusive relationships and the best thing that helped me was knowing that when the time was right for me I always had somewhere to go and not feeling like they were judging me. If a friend of yours has told you that they are experiencing abuse or even just insinuated it then being there is the best thing you can do. It has to be their choice to leave and just knowing you have somewhere you can go in my experience makes such a difference to coping day to day.

They want to leave but I don’t know how to help them
The main thing you can do to help is to be there and support them. If it is possible for them to get important documents together and leave them with you until they leave this could help lots. Examples are bank details, benefits letters, passport, driving license, birth certificates, rent or mortgage details etc. Safety planning is really important do they know what to do in an emergency, have they thought this through the best they can? Supporting them to think of these things and know what they will do when the time comes and they leave is perfect, it takes the fear away and gives them more confidence that they can leave.

I think my neighbour/friend/family member is being abused what should I do?
If you believe someone is actually at risk at this very moment then call the police. If children are involved you can also contact social services. Help will be given to the family and the individuals will be spoken to individually so it can be a perfect time for them to disclose what is happening. If you don’t think they are in immediate risk then just being a friend and being there for them is the best thing you really can do. Make yourself aware of the helplines available locally and have them handy, maybe stored on your phone so if they do open up to you then you can offer them. I personally believe openly asking someone if they are being abused unless you are extremely close is not a good idea as it can feel very confrontational and may push them away.

This is really not an exclusive list there are so many signs that someone could be in an abusive relationship and so many things you can do to help but also so many things you could do that wouldn’t help. Remember to be a friend and that first and foremost you need to remember that if they are in an abusive relationship it is never their fault and they may push you away unintentionally in order to keep things as calm as possible for them at home.


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