What can you do if you suspect domestic violence is occurring in a loved one’s life? Domestic violence often happens behind closed doors, where the perpetrator tries to keep the victim isolated so that nobody else knows what’s going on. But if you do suspect domestic violence, there are signs you can look out for and steps you can take.
Signs of domestic violence
There are some possible indicators that domestic violence is occurring. The person may:
- seem intimidated or frightened by their partner or withdrawn or reluctant to speak, and the children may seem timid, frightened or too well behaved in the partner’s presence
- be overly anxious to please their partner
- say their partner constantly follows, rings or texts them wanting to know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with
- be regularly criticised or verbally put down by their partner in front of you
- say their partner is jealous and possessive and accuses them of having affairs with other people
- refer to their partner or family member having a bad temper or being moody, especially when they have been drinking
- repeatedly have bruises, broken bones, or other injuries claimed as the result of falls or other accidents
- wear inappropriate clothing in summer months such as scarves and long sleeves or wear heavy make-up and sunglasses inside to hide signs of physical abuse
- often be late to work or appointments or cancel meetings with you at the last minute
- stop seeing or speaking with you, friends and family
- say their partner controls the money (i.e. gives them none or not enough and makes them account for every cent that is spent).
What to do if you suspect domestic violence
Most importantly your friend or family member needs your support. Even if there is not any immediate change, your support may help them to consider their options and ultimately ensure their safety. Be aware that they may not want to leave, or be unable to leave straight away. It’s likely they’ll need long-term support from you.
If you suspect domestic violence, approach the initial conversation carefully. A controlling partner often blames the victim for the violence, so an abused person may be afraid of being judged and be defensive.
- Only try to start a conversation if the person is alone in a place where it is safe to speak with you and there is enough time to talk about the issue. The victim may be willing to talk if they feel safe and trust you to keep their situation to yourself. Questions such as “I am worried about you because I don’t get to see you often anymore” or “You look unhappy lately” may help get the conversation started.
- It is important that you believe what they tell you. They are more likely to downplay the abuse rather than exaggerate it. Many abusers are charming to others. What you see of their behaviour may be very different to their behaviour towards their partner.
- It is important that you listen and are not judgemental or critical. Do not tell them what to do but help them to explore options that are available.
- When they finish talking let them know you care and ask them how you can help. Make it clear that it is the person using violent or abusive behaviour who is responsible for their behaviour and not them. The person experiencing the violence or abuse cannot make a person stop being abusive, no matter how hard they try.
- You should let them know there are organisations that can help, including services to help them escape the violence if that’s what they want to do. If you think it’s important to seek professional assistance, encourage the person to do this on their own behalf.
- If you think you might need to seek professional advice to help you better assist your friend or family member, it is important to let them know that you might do this. Reassure them that you can discuss the situation with the professional organisation without revealing their name or any identifying details.
- Remain their friend even if they continue to stay in the relationship. At the same time remind them that everyone has the right to live free from violence. If they want to go to a refuge or safe place, support them to do so. If they are in immediate danger, call the police on 000 (Triple Zero).
It is important to protect yourself from danger. Never intervene in a violent situation or confront an abusive person.
If they do not want to talk, and you still suspect domestic violence, express your concern for them anyway. Tell them that domestic and family violence is never okay and they have done nothing to deserve or cause it.
You need to reassure them that you will stand by them, and be ready to talk or help, when they ask
My friend won’t leave the relationship…what can I do?
There is nothing you can do other than continue to provide support. However, if they are in immediate danger, call the police on 000 (Triple Zero). It is natural that you are concerned and wish for your friend or family member to leave the relationship.
However, ending any relationship is difficult, including those where domestic violence is occurring. There may be a number of reasons why a victim feels they cannot leave a violent relationship. They may:
- fear for their life, the lives of their children or family following a threat from the perpetrator
- believe they have nowhere to go or that they will be found wherever they go
- believe their partner’s promise to end the violence and hope the relationship will go back to how it was before the violence started
- believe they cannot cope by themselves or alone with their children
- be encouraged or persuaded by others (such as family, friends, minister, community elder) to stay in the relationship or give their partner another chance to change
- have a cultural or religious belief that marriage is forever
- fear they will be isolated from family and friends
- feel ashamed and believe that the violence is their fault
- hope that the violence will stop if they change their behaviour
- have little or no access to money and believe they will not be able to support themselves or their children
- be unwilling to take the children away from their home or fear losing their children in a custody battle
- be reluctant to end the relationship after the years that have been invested.
Never confront the perpetrator of domestic violence.
You should not confront or engage this person about their behaviour. This may result in placing yourself and the person being abused at further risk. If you suspect domestic violence, seek help from elsewhere.
What if children are involved?
The effects of domestic and family violence on children and young people are serious, even if they aren’t the target of the violence or abuse.
If your friend or family member has children, you should tell them you’re concerned about the effect the violence or abuse has on them and the children.
You can also:
- provide support to the child or young person
- assure them that it’s not their fault
- let them know that violence or abuse is never okay.
Another way you can support a victim of domestic violence is to accompany them to appointments – and one of those will be to a family lawyer. For friendly, compassionate advice, contact us today. We offer a FREE, 10-minute phone consultation.