How to spot the signs of domestic abuse

Because domestic abuse is such a hidden crime, it is those closest to the victim who are most likely to detect that something is wrong – and the best placed to do something to help.

People experiencing domestic abuse can change their behaviour in ways that are obvious or more subtle.

Such behaviours might include:

  • They stop doing things they used to do, like seeing friends or family, or going to work or college

  • They seem fearful of their partner’s reactions to things they do or did; perhaps they asked you not to tell their partner about something they’ve done

  • They don’t seem to have full control over their money – perhaps they worry about spending too much or have to explain everything they spend.  Do they complain that their partner is spending all their money, or is running up lots of debt?

  • Does their partner check up on them a lot?  Are they constantly getting texts or phone calls; does their partner turn up unexpectedly?  Do they feel the need to keep in touch all the time?

  • Does their partner get jealous?  Do they get accused of being flirty or unfaithful?  Do they worry about spending time or being photographed with friends because of their partner’s reaction?

  • Does their partner put them down in public?

  • Has their self-esteem dropped recently?

  • Does their partner set lots of rules that they must follow, such as who they can see, what they can wear, what they can spend money on and how their home must be kept?

  • Do they bear any bruises, or other signs of physical injury?

  • Have they been pressured into sexual activity they are not comfortable with?

How to help

What should you do if you suspect someone is a victim of domestic abuse?

First of all, trust your instincts.  If your ‘gut feeling’ tells you that something is not quite right, don’t ignore it. It might be nothing, but your help could mean everything.

If you believe someone is in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

If you suspect that someone you know is being abused in their relationship, there are a number of options open to you. As a concerned friend or neighbour, you can report your concerns to the police or the specialist organisations below, but exercise caution when doing so. Making a report on the victim’s behalf may not be safe, can be very disempowering for them, and can result in consequences for the victim that you cannot foresee.

Try talking to the victim about it

If you can, try talking to the victim about the abuse in a safe and confidential space, and signpost them to help and support.

Evidence shows that if you directly ask someone whether they are suffering domestic abuse, rather than waiting for them to bring it up, they are more likely to speak out about their experience.  And people are much more likely to confide in a friend or someone close to them, than to the police or professional services.

Click here for some advice about how to broach the subject with someone you suspect may be experiencing domestic abuse, and how you can signpost them to support.