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How to help someone who you think might be a victim of domestic abuse
If you suspect that someone may be in an abusive relationship, you can try to find a safe space and time to talk to them and let them know that you are there for help and support.
Evidence shows that victims are much more likely to confide in a friend or someone close to them, than to the police or professional services.
Don’t leave it to someone else to start the conversation – in a fifth of cases of domestic abuse last year, nobody else knew what was going on. As one victim explained: “No one asked. No one asked, so I just didn’t tell.”
Always start the conversation face-to-face – if you try and have it over the phone or social media their partner may find the messages and retaliate against them or you. Make sure you won’t be overheard or interrupted and that you are both in a safe place before you start the conversation.
Do not confront the abuser. Do not do anything that may endanger you, the victim or their children.
“I'm worried about you”
What to say?
Approach the subject with obvious kindness and concern. Avoid using the labels of ‘domestic abuse’ or ‘domestic violence’ as many people don’t want to identify with these.
To start the conversation, try asking the person how things are in their relationship, or mention things you have noticed in their behaviour or the behaviour of the abuser. For example:
– “We haven’t seen much of you recently, is everything ok?”
– “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down, has anyone upset you?”
– “Wow, they text you a lot – do they do that all the time?”
– “I’m worried about you – I saw the way they looked at you and you seemed scared.”
If the person starts to talk about the abuse, try to listen with an open mind and a supportive attitude – even if you don’t agree with what they say. It can be difficult not to offer opinions about the relationship or the abuser, to criticise or to blame, but this is unhelpful because it can make the person clam up and make them less likely to talk to you later. If the person does not disclose the abuse, respect their wishes but let them know you are always there for help and support.
Don’t pass judgement. Saying things like “Really?! That seems so unlike him” or “It sounds like you are both as bad as each other” is not helpful.
And, be careful not to offer advice – leave that to the experts. Never tell them to leave the relationship immediately, as this can be highly risky and there may be many reasons (fear for themselves and their children, lack of money or risk of homelessness) why they are unable to. The victim is the expert in their own situation.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO GET ACROSS
Let them know that you believe them
Let them know that you want to help
Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault
Thank them for their bravery – it takes a lot of courage to open up about something like this
Let them know that help is out there – make sure they know where to find the contact details of relevant support services and helplines who can help them with safety planning
If they want to find out about what might happen to the perpetrator, and what options are available to them and the authorities, Victim Support has a simple, clear guide on this web page.
You don’t need to have all the answers. Just by listening you will be helping the person to admit what is happening, and this will break the silence around the situation.
Ask them what they want to do, or have happen next, so that they feel in control of the situation.
Ending a relationship with an abusive partner or adult family member is an extremely difficult and risky decision to make and the victim may take some time to decide to do this – and to work out how to do it safely.
Once they’ve opened up to you….
But there are some general tips that you can share with your friend, relative, neighbour or colleague, especially if they are still in the relationship and considering leaving:
Encourage them to pack an emergency bag and to hide this in a safe place, possibly away from their home, in case they need to leave their house quickly. This might contain important documents such as passports and birth certificates, spare keys to their home or car, money, medications, some clothes and a few of the children’s toys.
Help them to work out a plan for leaving including who they can call, where they might go, and how they can get there.
Agree a code word with the person so they can signal to you if they are in danger or distressed and need you to access urgent help on their behalf.
If they have left the relationship, the person may need to change their contact details and think carefully about who they share them with, because some of the people they know will also know the abuser and may not keep this information secret.
People who have been in an abusive relationship often say how helpful it was to get practical support from the people they know. Here are some examples of support that you may be able to offer:
– Being with them when they contact support organisations or helplines
– Offering to go with them to appointments
– Helping them to move to a safe place
– Letting them stay at your home for a short time
– Looking after their children so that the person has time to think, plan and receive support
They are not alone
There are several organisations that they can contact if they want to get help:
0808 2000 247
In Wales call the All-Wales 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline
0808 80 10 800
or visit the Welsh Women’s Aid website
In Northern Ireland call the Freephone 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline
0808 802 1414
or the NI Women’s Aid website
In Scotland call the Freephone 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline
0800 027 1234
or visit the Scottish Women’s Aid website
Karma Nirvana is the specialist helpline for forced marriage and honour-based abuse. It is open 9-5 Monday to Friday.
0800 5999 247
Email them at email@example.com
Galop is the LGBT+ anti-violence charity which runs the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline
0800 999 5428
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
0808 801 0327
0800 555 111
0808 16 89 111
0345 6000 459
0345 6000 459
There’s also a helpline offering advice, information and support for men who want to stop being violent and abusive towards their partner:
0808 802 4040
You can find your local domestic abuse service on the Domestic Abuse Directory.
Women’s Aid has also created ‘The Survivor’s Handbook’, a comprehensive resource for women experiencing domestic violence.
What do you do if the victim confides in you about the abuse, but swears you to secrecy?
Ultimately, the victim has a much better chance of safety and independence if they are able to make decisions about what happens next. Although you mean well, reporting the abuse to the authorities on their behalf can be unsafe, very disempowering for the victim and lead to consequences that you cannot foresee.
It’s best to ask them what they want to do, or have happen next, so that they feel in control of the situation.
Emphasise that you are not in a position to give them advice; only the experts can. Make sure you give them all the relevant numbers to call and encourage them to do so. Offer to be there with them when they make the call, if they want support.
If you are worried about someone but don’t know how to help, call the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline yourself, on 0808 2000 247, to ask for advice.
If children are involved
However, if you are concerned about the safety and welfare of children as a result of the domestic abuse, you should consider getting in touch with their school who can investigate safeguarding concerns. You could also report your concerns to the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.
Look after yourself
Trying to help someone who is experiencing domestic abuse can be quite traumatic and stressful, so if you are struggling to cope with the pressure yourself you can call the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline run by Women’s Aid and Refuge on 0808 2000 247.
If in Wales, call the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800, or in Northern Ireland the Freephone 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 802 1414, or the Freephone 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline in Scotland on 0800 027 1234.
Want to do even more?
Women’s Aid is keen to find people who care deeply about tackling domestic abuse and are willing to go the extra mile to raise awareness in their communities. Is this you?
If so, you could become a Women’s Aid ‘Change that Lasts community ambassador’. This is part of Women’s Aid’s new approach to tackling domestic abuse, called Change That Lasts.
During a free two-day training course, ask me ambassadors learn how to start conversations about domestic abuse, respond effectively to disclosures, and signpost survivors to help and support.
Change the Lasts community ambassadors come from all walks of life – teachers, hairdressers, receptionists, posties, Money Advice Plus advisers, college students, solicitors, life coaches, yoga teachers, graphic designers, freelance journalists.
They learn to challenge the myths around domestic abuse and victim-blaming attitudes in their community as well as learning how best to respond to a disclosure and where to signpost people for help. Community ambassadors will then share this learning with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues and create a safe space in their community where survivors feel able to talk about domestic abuse.
To find out more about becoming a Change that Lasts ambassador, click here.