If you know for certain or suspect that someone is suffering domestic abuse, how can you help them?
It’s a tricky situation to find yourself in, but there are things you can do to help a domestic abuse sufferer. We urge you not to look the other way, even if the person doesn’t want your help, because you could save a life.
Irish statesmen, economist, and philosopher, Edmund Burke, once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” If you suspect or know that someone is being abused domestically, we appreciate it can be highly challenging to help them without being accused of interfering or becoming a target of the abuser yourself.
However, if as a society we want to continue raising awareness of domestic violence and stamp it out, we must be willing to act if we know or suspect that a person is being abused. So, here’s how you can help a domestic abuse sufferer…
Tips to help a domestic abuse sufferer
Give them your time
When reaching out to help a domestic abuse sufferer, it’s important to give them your time. If they decide to open up, you don’t want to be ending the conversation because you have another commitment.
Initiate the conversation
If you suspect that someone is being abused, it’s unlikely that they will come out and just say it due to the fear associated with domestic violence. However, you can start the conversation in a way that gives a person the opportunity to open up. Very Well Mind recommends bringing up the subject by saying: “I’m worried about you because…” or “I’m concerned for your safety…” or “I’ve noticed some changes in you that concern me…” You may have spotted changes that include a change in what they would normally wear – often a sign that they are trying to cover up bruises – or they have become quiet and withdrawn despite previously having an extrovert personality. When starting a conversation, it’s important that you reassure the person that you will be discreet about what is shared. You should not try to force the issue, let the conversation unfold at their pace.
It’s easy to just blurt out that the person being abused should just leave their abuser. This is easier said than done, and it’s actually not what the person needs to hear. Instead, they need you to listen without judging them, offering advice, or trying to give solutions.
Look out for the warning signs
If you don’t know for sure that a person is being abused, but you suspect, there are things you can look out for physically, emotionally and behaviourally.
The physical signs to look out for include:
- Increased use of makeup/change of hairstyle – if the person doesn’t typically wear makeup, or wears a minimal amount, a sudden increase in makeup use could be a sign of trying to cover up bruises, split lips and more. Meanwhile, they may have styled their hair in such a way to avoid revealing bruises or cuts to the face.
- Change in clothing – if a person suddenly starts wearing clothing you wouldn’t typically expect them to wear, this could be a sign of trying to cover up cuts, bruises, burn marks and more. Sometimes hats are worn to cover up where hair has been pulled out.
- Breaks or sprains – if a person is experiencing regular bone breaks or sprains, this could be a sign of abuse at home. It’s likely that they will make up a story to explain these injuries away.
Some of the emotional and mental signs to look out for include:
- Substance abuse
- Sudden anxiety
- Constantly apologising for things
- A loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Talking about suicide
Some of the behavioural signs to be aware of include:
- Withdrawal from seeing family and friends
- Cancelling appointments or meetings at the last minute
- Increasingly late for work
Believe what they’re saying
One of the best ways you can help a domestic abuse sufferer is to believe what they are saying. It’s often the case that only those suffering abuse see the darker side of the person abusing them. It’s not uncommon for people to be shocked to learn that someone they know could be abusive.
It’s one of the reasons why many sufferers don’t speak out about the abuse they are experiencing. You should believe their story and reassure them that it’s not their fault and don’t deserve what’s happening to them.
Help form a plan
If the person suffering the abuse wants to escape their situation, you can help them formulate a plan… away from the prying eyes of their abuser. You can coordinate resources, get legal advice and help them to visualise what they need to do to free themselves.
A plan could include:
- A place to go in an emergency
- A prepared excuse to leave should they feel threatened
- A code word that alerts friends or family that they need help
- Having an escape bag ready that contains the essentials