What to do if you know someone who is being abused


What to look out for

There are behaviours and signs that are common with people who are experiencing domestic and family violence.

They may...

  • Stop going out or claim they are not allowed to, with no other obvious reason.
  • Appear anxious, depressed, tired or teary for no other obvious reason.
  • Appear timid, wary, self-critical or self-conscious around their partner, or their partner seems rude or nasty to them.
  • Have injuries or time in hospital that raises your suspicion.
  • Keep feeling they need to justify their movements or expenses.
  • Complain of being followed, monitored, stalked or controlled.

What you could ask

While it’s important to be aware of the signs of domestic and family violence, in the end the only way to be certain that there is a problem is to ask the person about what is going on. Of course, this can be difficult and it should be done carefully.

  • Family members or friends can try direct, gentle questioning such as:
  • You’ve seemed really stressed lately, is everything ok at home?
  • I noticed those bruises, did someone do that to you?
  • Your partner seems to be making you frightened, is everything ok?
  • Are you ok?

Don’t pressure, don’t confront, but do open up the space for compassionate listening, and give your friend or loved one opportunities to speak in private.

What to do

It’s very important to believe what a person experiencing domestic and family violence tells you, even if you think their partner or ex seems charming, kind or nice. People who perpetrate domestic and family violence can be very good at presenting themselves in a positive way in public.

Don’t blame the person or minimise the abuser’s responsibility for the abuse. If they have relationship problems, these are most likely to have been caused by the abuse, not by her personality or by conflict.

Here are some ways you can help your family member or friend:

  • Take their fears seriously.
  • Help them in practical ways – with transport, appointments, child minding, a place to escape to if they feel unsafe. 
  • Offer to help them go to an organisation or place where they can get help. 
  • Help to give the children a sense of your care and support.
  • Understand the difficult choices they have to make – they may not be ready or it may not be safe for them to leave.
  • Help them to sort through options to get safe, whether they leave or stay with the abuser.
  • Be positive about their strengths and what they have done so far to stay safe or keep their children safe. Remember that domestic and family violence involves more than the physical acts of abuse, and that perpetrators will target self-confidence and grind down the resilience of the people they abuse.
  • Talk to them about protection orders and how they can get it. Find out how: ‘Protecting yourself from domestic violence, know your rights.’
  • If you have concerns that someone may be killed or seriously harmed, you may need to speak to the police. Remember, domestic and family violence can be dangerous.
  • Call one of the emergency numbers if you see your friend or their children being harmed or assaulted, or you are frightened they are about to be attacked.

Important telephone numbers:

  • Woman Abuse helpline: 0800 150 150
  • Childline 24hr helpline: 0800 055 555
  • SAPS Emergency Services: 10111
  • Suicide Crisis Line: 0800 567 567
  • Human Trafficking Helpline: 0800 555 999
  • Crimeline: 32211
  • Gender Violence Centre: 0800 428 428 – for a social worker dial *120*7867#

Sources: The Vital Foundation, 1800RESPECT.

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