I want to help a friend or family member

It can be extremely worrying when you fear someone you know may be being hurt or abused by their partner, ex-partner or family member.

Your help can make a huge difference to someone who is being abused.

If they feel supported and encouraged, they may feel stronger and more able to make safe decisions.

But if they feel judged or criticised, they could be afraid to tell anyone else about the abuse.

How can I recognise abuse?

You might be unsure if what your friend or relative is experiencing is ‘abuse’. Maybe you just have a sense that something is ‘wrong’ in their relationship. Sometimes there may be signs but often there will be nothing obvious.

Signs that someone may be being abused:

  • They seem afraid of their partner or are always very anxious to please him or her. They’ve stopped seeing friends or family, or cut phone conversations short when the partner is in the room.
  • Their partner often criticises or humiliates them in front of other people.
  • They say their partner pressures or forces them to do sexual things.
  • Their partner often orders them about or makes all the decisions (for example, controlling finances, telling them who they can see and what they can do).
  • They often talk about their partner’s ‘jealousy’, ‘bad temper’ or ‘possessiveness’.
  • They’ve become anxious or depressed, have lost confidence, or are unusually quiet.
  • They have physical injuries (bruises, broken bones, sprains, cuts etc.). They may give unlikely explanations for physical injuries.
  • Their children seem afraid of their partner, have behavioural problems, or are very withdrawn or anxious.
  • They are reluctant to leave the children with their partner.
  • After they’ve left the relationship, their partner is constantly calling, harassing them, following them, coming to the house or waiting outside.
I want to help a friend or family member

It can be hard to understand why someone would stay in a relationship if they’re being treated badly. Leaving may appear to be a simple solution but it’s rarely the end of the story and can be a very difficult thing to do.

I want to help a friend or family member

There are a number of reasons why it may be hard to leave:

Fear of the consequences. The person who is abusive may have threatened to harm them, their relatives, or the children, pets or property. The abuser may threaten to commit suicide if their partner talks about leaving. Love. Relationships are complex and no one is abusive all of the time.

Commitment. They have committed to the person and want it to work out. It may be the belief that marriage is forever, for ‘better or worse’.

Hope. Sometimes the abusive person might promise to change and that if circumstances change the abusive will stop.

Guilt. Thinking, (and being told) that the abuse is their fault and that if they just stop doing x or start doing y then the abuse will stop.

Children. Some may feel it is best for the children to stay in a stable home with both parents. The abusive partner may have threatened to take or harm the children.

Confidence. When the abuser has broken down their partner’s confidence, it can make them feel like they are stupid, hopeless, and responsible for the abuse. They may feel powerless and unable to make decisions.

Isolation. The abuser may have tried to cut their partner off from contact with family or friends. They might therefore be afraid of coping alone. If English is not their first language they might feel particularly isolated.

Peer Pressure. Pressure to stay from family, community or church. Some people fear rejection from their community or family if they leave.

Money. They may not have access to money or anywhere to go to. If they have a disability they may rely on their abusive partner for assistance.

Risk. Leaving an abusive partner may sometimes be quite dangerous. The abuse may continue or increase after they leave. A survivor is at greatest risk of death or serious injury at the point of leaving and up to two years after.

What can I do if I witness or overhear physical violence or threats?

If you believe there is immediate physical danger and that they and/or their children are about to be harmed, call the police on 999 immediately

Looking after yourself

Supporting someone who is being abused can be frustrating, frightening and stressful. You need to look after yourself and to get support too.

Should I respond to their abuser?

Don’t place yourself in a position where the person who is being abusive could harm or manipulate you.

Don’t try to intervene directly if you witness a person being assaulted – call the police instead.

If the person who is being abusive is your friend or relative, you may feel caught in the middle. It is important to understand that if you approach the person who is abusive, he or she may:

  • Tell you to ‘mind your own business’
  • Deny the abuse, or say ‘how can you think I could do something like that?’
  • Make it seem like it’s ‘not that bad’, or that it only happened once
  • Make it seem like it’s the other person’s fault, or that it’s their behaviour that’s the problem, not theirs
  •  Say that they couldn’t help themselves, they were drunk, just ‘snapped’, or ‘lost control’

None of these responses mean that they aren’t abusive. It’s common for a person who is being abusive to deny or minimise the abuse. Even someone who appears to be ‘respectable’ and ‘normal’ can be abusive in the privacy of their own home.

It is possible that the person who is abusive may admit the abuse was their fault, but say they don’t know how to stop their behaviour. Encourage them to call RESPECT on 0808 802 4040. They can make a choice and get help to stop.

Domestic abuse and violence at work

If a colleague or employee is experiencing violence or abuse at home, it doesn't just affect their personal life. They may need support at work if:

• Their abuser is stalking or attempting to contact them at work, making them feel unsafe

• Their work performance and general wellbeing is being affected by loss of concentration, low self-esteem and anxiety

• Their home-life is disrupted, (being made homeless or having to move to a refuge for example) which can make it hard to physically get to work and maintain regular work hours

• They have physical injuries and/or are affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the abuse

For help and advice in supporting a colleague affected by domestic abuse and violence call RISE on 0300 323 9985, or you can contact us online via the Portal by clicking here.