Navigating suspected abuse can be complicated, frightening, and often frustrating. But talking about domestic abuse – and offering your unwavering support – can be the lifeline a victim needs to get out safely.
Warning Signs of Domestic Abuse
Abuse might be blatant, or it might be less obvious. Trust your gut if you suspect a friend, family member, co-worker, or other person in your life is being abused. Your suspicions might be unfounded, but more likely, there’s a good reason you feel uneasy.
Each relationship is unique, so abuse might look different from one relationship to another. However, you can keep an eye out for these common warning signs of abuse:
- Spending less time with family and friends.
- Marked changes in behavior, especially when around their partner.
- Their partner makes fun of them or talks down to them in front of others.
- You observe/your loved one tells you their partner is extremely possessive or jealous.
- They are worried about upsetting their partner.
- Making excuses for their partner’s behavior.
- Excessive and/or constant phone calls or messages from the partner when they are apart.
- The partner controls your loved one’s finances, time, behavior, or decisions.
- Unexplained physical injuries, marks, or bruising.
These signs might come on suddenly or become noticeable over time. Don’t ignore these warning signs, as they could indicate more significant abuse behind the scenes.
What You Can Say if You Suspect Abuse
If you think someone you know is experiencing abuse, it can be difficult to know what to say – or whether to say anything at all. There’s no easy way to start such a serious conversation. But that conversation can literally be lifesaving.
Before talking to someone about the suspected abuse, be sure they are in a safe place where you can speak to them one-on-one, away from the potential abuser.
The U.S. Department of Women’s Health recommends the following to help someone whom you think is being abused:
- Be honest about your concerns. Tell her you are worried about her safety and give her examples of the behaviors or signs you’re seeing. Even if she is defensive, let her know that you will be there for her no matter what she decides.
- Ask if she wants help. She might not be ready to talk about the abuse or make a plan to leave the abuser. Tell her you will help when she is ready, that you’re always there to listen, and that you will continue to offer your support.
- Offer specific help, like names of nearby shelters or the number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- Avoid blame, shame, or guilt. Let her know that the abuse is not her fault and that abuse is never okay under any circumstances.
- Encourage her to see friends or family and do things outside the relationship.
- Be there when she leaves. Even if a relationship is abusive, leaving can often lead to loneliness. Your support can help her reestablish herself and prevent her from returning to the abuser.
Remember, you can’t force someone else to leave an abusive relationship, or even recognize that abuse is happening. In the end, the person experiencing the abuse must make that decision on her own. All you can do is express your concerns and offer your support.
If she decides to leave the abuser, you can provide resources to help her get out safely.
Should I Call the Police?
When you know a friend or family member is being abused, your first instinct might be to involve law enforcement. But calling the police might be more harmful than helpful.
Unless the person experiencing the abuse has gone over a safety plan with you that explicitly grants you permission to call the police, you could inadvertently be making the situation worse. Consider these circumstances:
- The victim might be unable to speak honestly with law enforcement, either because the abuser is present or because the victim feels they have no other options.
- Involving police may upset the abuser even further, leading to potentially dangerous situations for the person experiencing the abuse.
- The police might not believe the person is being abused, leading to additional complications.
- Reporting the abuser could put you in a dangerous position.
However, there are instances where calling the police might be the only option. If the person is in immediate danger, do not wait; contact the authorities.
Resources for Survivors
There are plenty of resources designed to help those experiencing domestic abuse. You can help the survivors in your life by providing them with the following information:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788.
- Database of domestic shelters throughout the U.S.
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.