You recognize when someone is not acting like themselves. The person may seem abnormally sad, withdrawn, or angry. But how can you tell if a friend or loved one is the victim of domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a serious, sometimes life-threatening situation. It is abuse, either physical or verbal, that occurs in a person’s home by their partner or spouse.
Being on the outside looking in can be extremely difficult because you suspect something is wrong in your friend or loved one’s life, but you are afraid to intrude. What if you’re wrong? Domestic violence is a serious accusation. What if you’re right? You may have concerns about your own safety.
Some of the Warning Signs of Domestic Violence
- Frequent physical injuries such as bruises, black eyes, cut lips, red or purple marks on the neck, sprained wrists, or broken arms
- Trying to cover up injuries with heavy makeup, sunglasses, or bulky clothing
- Withdrawing from normal activities or events with other people
- Separating from friends or loved ones
- Acting very secretive about their personal life
- Exhibiting signs of fear when their partner is around or try to please their partner when he or she is around
- Having to ask for permission to go anywhere and may complain that their partner is excessively jealous
- Receiving frequent texts or calls from their partner checking on where they are, and constantly reporting in
- Having restricted access to credit cards, money, or the car
- Seeming controlled or manipulated by someone else and showing significant personality changes
- You witness their partner acting in a hypersensitive manner toward your friend or loved one, setting unrealistic expectations on them, or blaming them for all his or her problems
If you see something, it’s important to say something. While it may be uncomfortable and it may temporarily cause hard feelings, it also could potentially save someone’s life.
Talk to your friend or loved one in private
This is not the time to call someone out in person or on social media. It’s understandable that you are upset or angry at the suspected abuser and possibly even at the victim, but a public confrontation at this time will do more harm than good. Talk to your friend or loved one about your suspicions in private. Approach the conversation calmly and factually. For example:
“I’m worried about you because you haven’t seemed like yourself recently. I’ve noticed the following things occur that have me concerned that you may potentially be in an abusive relationship. I want to support you and help you.”
Don’t be surprised if this first conversation doesn’t go well. Victims of domestic violence often keep it to themselves because they feel shame, guilt, or fear. Sometimes they don’t even recognize they are in an abusive relationship. The most important part of this first conversation is letting the person know you care about them, support them, and will be there to help them whenever they need it.
If they are willing to open-up, JUST LISTEN. Don’t judge the decisions they have made. Don’t judge their partner. DON'T TRY TO OFFER ADVICE as to how to “fix” their partner or “fix” the situation. Abuse is a complex situation, and both the victim and abuser need professional assistance and counseling.
What you should do is help your friend or loved one recognize the abuse that has occurred, take the abuse seriously, realize it is not his or her fault, and most importantly, seek professional help. Have a list of resources ready handy for places to get help. These might include:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
- Local Domestic Violence Hotlines or Organizations, such as the YMCA, YWCA, Battered Women’s Shelter, Women Helping Women, Legal Aid Society or local church resources.
- A local police officer or attorney
If you suspect someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. Do not try to intervene yourself. Domestic violence is a crime.
You can support the victim by helping them create a safety plan, which may include things like keeping a spare set of car keys or important paperwork at your house or having a code word they can use to let you know if they are in immediate danger.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has detailed safety plans to help in some different scenarios.
As the friend assisting in the situation, you too are going to need support and the help of an expert. Call a helpline yourself for professional advice and guidance.