How to do something
What can I do?
Do you suspect that someone you know is being abused, and you want to help somehow? Perhaps a neighbour, friend or family member has confided in you about experiencing domestic and family violence in their relationship?
There are things you can do to help. If someone you know is experiencing domestic and family violence, you can be part of the solution. Your help can make a difference.
There are three ways you can help, depending on the situation:
Talk to the victim
An important thing you can do is offer support to the victim.
Let the victim know that support is available
Make yourself aware of the support services available.
Call triple zero (000)
If there is any physical risk of violence you should always call the Police on triple zero (000).
If you suspect someone is in an abusive relationship, your support is an important thing you can give them.
Even if your friend, family member or neighbour doesn't want to discuss it, just knowing they have your support could help them:
- recognise abusive behaviour they might not have been aware of.
- strengthen their self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
- reach out to professional services to get help.
- develop the confidence to talk to you about it later.
Having the conversation
It might feel daunting, but letting someone know you care about them doesn't have to be hard. You don't have to do it straight away either. Unless it's a life-threatening situation, make sure you feel ready, and know that the other person is ready too. All you need to do is voice your concern – then listen, and believe what they tell you.
Here's a step-by-step guide to having that conversation. You don't have to take every step – just the ones that are relevant.
Remember that you might have to try having this conversation several times before they feel comfortable talking about it.
Steps to having an effective conversation
- Think about what you're going to say, and be prepared to respect the decisions they make.
- Know the support services available.
- Pick the right moment.
- Express your concern.
- Prepare for responses.
- Listen, believe, respect.
How would you feel if a friend, family member or neighbour approached you and said:
“Hey, I’m worried about you. You don’t seem yourself lately”.
It’s unlikely you’d feel angry at them.
If everything was fine, you would say so, and walk away knowing they genuinely cared about you.
If you weren’t fine, you’d have the opportunity to open up.
If you didn’t feel comfortable discussing it, you’d make an excuse to leave the conversation, but you’d know you had someone to turn to when you felt ready.
Remember, the risk of embarrassment or of damaging a friendship that comes from having a conversation about domestic and family violence is low, but the potential benefits are enormous.
You are making a difference just by letting them know you support them.
Your first instinct might be to try and 'fix' the situation. You might want to say:
- "I think you should leave him. He's abusive".
- "If it's so bad, why don't you leave".
- "What did you do to deserve it, can you improve"?
But imagine how you'd feel if someone said this about your relationship? You'd feel embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed or angry. You'd feel the need to defend yourself, your relationship and your partner.
Take a second to put yourself in the other person's shoes and think carefully about what you're going to say. There are many reasons they might not feel comfortable discussing the abuse or taking advice from you.
- They might think that you will not believe them.
- They fear what will happen to them if the perpetrator of violence finds out they have told someone.
- They have started to believe what the perpetrator of violence says about them and that they 'deserve it'.
- They still love their partner and may not want the relationship to end.
- They might not realise that what they are experiencing is domestic and family violence – especially if there has been no physical violence.
- The violence might be happening in cycles, where the perpetrator is apologetic and promises that they will change and it will never happen again.
- They might not want to worry you.
- They might be afraid of putting you at risk for becoming involved.
- They might have difficulty trusting people as a result of being abused.
It's important to listen to them without judgement, take the issue seriously and respect the decisions they make. They may be experiencing shame or embarrassment, or feel like hiding what's going on from friends and family.
They need to feel supported and encouraged, so that they can make decisions that are best for them and their ongoing safety.
Before your conversation, find out about the domestic and family violence support services available.
It's important to choose the right moment for your conversation. You'll need to find a time and a place where they feel safe and relaxed enough to talk freely.
It's safest face to face.
Remember, the perpetrator of violence might be monitoring the victim’s phone, social media and messages, so arrange to meet up in person, or try for an impromptu setting.
If they have children, try to find a time when the children won't be around, or a location where they'll be occupied.
Avoid having the conversation in the victim's home, or in a place where you may be interrupted by the perpetrator of violence.
Some good opportunities could be:
|Friend/family||Neighbour or acquaintance|
Opening the conversation may seem like the hardest part of the process, but it's actually very simple and straightforward.
Here are some ways you could start, depending on the situation:
- You could open with your concern for them and a specific example of what you've noticed. This helps steer the conversation in the right direction.
- "I'm worried about you because I've noticed xxx."
- "You were so quiet around <partner> on Sunday. Are things alright?"
- "I've been thinking about what you told me last week, and I'm worried about you."
- "I noticed <partner> called the office five times today. Is everything okay?
- You could start by simply expressing concern for their safety.
- "I'm really concerned about your safety lately."
- "I'm worried you and the kids are in danger."
- Or, if you feel nervous or uncomfortable, you might want to start with something less specific – but be prepared to respond with concrete examples of why you feel this way.
- "I'm worried about you."
- "How are you coping lately?"
- "How are things with your family?"
Remember: all you need to do is let them know you support them. You don't need to solve their problems, or force them into any decisions – just to let them know you are concerned and available to listen.
If this is the first time you've voiced your concerns, their natural response may be to pretend that nothing is wrong.
Be prepared for them to:
- completely deny the problem.
- acknowledge the example you provided, but downplay its importance.
- become defensive.
This is okay. You may need to broach the subject with them many times before they feel comfortable to open up. So long as you continue to phrase your questions around your concern for them, you won't damage your relationship.
Don't force the issue
If they are not ready to talk – don't force things. Respect their decision and let them know you are here to listen when they are ready.
- "I'm ready to listen if you want to talk about it."
- "I care about you, you know you can always talk to me."
- "I'm here for you."
Just leave the subject, but keep offering support whenever you meet. They may be ready to reach out the next time you meet.
If they are ready to talk, the most important thing you can do is listen without judgement.
Here are some tips to help respond in a way that supports and encourages.
Part of taking back control for a domestic and family violence victim is making their own decisions. Don't make decisions for them, or try to rush or pressure them into anything. Domestic and family violence impacts on a victim's health and wellbeing so they may struggle to make choices that seem simple to you.
Instead, try questions that assist them to problem solve themselves.
- "What do you think you could do?"
- "What do you think would happen to you if you leave?"
- "What do you fear will happen if you stay in the relationship?"
- "Have you thought about a plan if you were to leave?"
You can also encourage them to think about safety more closely and focus on their own needs, not just those of their partner.
It can be difficult to resist telling someone to leave an abusive relationship, but you need to remember that leaving can actually be the most unsafe time for a victim. Perpetrators of violence often make threats against the victim if they were to leave the relationship.
Remember: the decision about when and if to leave the relationship needs to be decided by the victim. Try to avoid making negative comments about the abusive person – it’s more helpful to focus on supporting the person who is being abused. Remind them that you will be there for them if they decide to stay or leave.
Remind them that they are strong and incredibly resilient despite such a stressful and traumatic situation.
- "You are so brave for being able to talk about this."
- "You are doing an amazing job keeping things together."
- "This must be so difficult - I admire your strength and determination."
The perpetrator of domestic and family violence is the only one responsible for their behaviour. Unfortunately, many victims blame themselves, or even believe that the abuse is their fault. Blaming the victim for the violence is commonly used by perpetrators as a tactic of psychological abuse.
Avoid any questions or comments that might insinuate the victim has triggered the abuse, such as:
- "What did you do to make him do that?"
- "Why do you put up with it?"
- "How can you still be in love with him?"
Try to challenge any statements they make that suggests the abuse could have been their fault. Responses could include:
- "No one deserves to be treated like that."
- "The way you are being treated is wrong."
- "This isn't your fault. Their behaviour is about power and control, not about what you have or haven't done."
- "Everyone feels angry, but we have a choice about how to respond."
Avoid blaming alcohol, other drugs or mental health issues for domestic and family violence. They don't cause someone to become abusive – the need for power and control does.
The victim might also try to make excuses for their partner, such as:
- "It's the drink that does it."
- "He's struggling with stress at work right now."
- "She was high at the time."
- "They had a tough childhood."
Try to challenge those excuses. Remind them:
- "Most people drink on occasion, and most people don't treat their partners that way!"
- "There is no excuse for the way they are treating you."
- "Being stressed at work doesn't give them the right to abuse you."
- "Many people who have tough childhoods grow up to have loving and respectful relationships."
Victims of domestic and family violence often downplay the seriousness of the abuse. Similarly, perpetrators of violence often downplay the seriousness of their abuse. If someone you know has expressed that they feel unsafe, believe them. If they need assistance, refer them to the appropriate support services.
The most helpful thing you can do is believe them. Many abusers are very skilled at appearing charming to outsiders – this is not an indication of the person they might be behind closed doors.
Victims of domestic and family violence will often take considerable measures to make sure that their children are safe. Raising concern about the effects of the violence on the children can be a powerful reminder about how perpetrators behaviour impacts the whole family
- "I'm afraid of what they could do to you or the children."
- "I'm worried about the kids – how this might be affecting them."
- "It must be really tiring for you as I see all the things you do to protect the children from the violence."
- "Are you worried about the children's safety at all?"
- "Have you noticed any change in the children's behaviour because of the violence?"
When they finish talking, let them know you care and ask them how you can help.
Here are some next steps you can take together.
Help them connect with support services
Let them know that there are services available to support them. They don't have to have left the relationship to access support and calling just to get information about their options will help.
Phone: 1800 811 811 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
DVConnect Womensline provides crisis support to women, and their children, including assistance to access safe accommodation, confidential counselling and information and referral to other services.
Phone: 1800 600 636 (9am to midnight, 7 days a week)
DVConnect Mensline provides confidential counselling, information and referral to other services for men affected by domestic and family violence.
Phone: 1800 55 1800 (24 hours, 7 days per week)
Phone 1800 737 732 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
National Sexual Assault and Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service
In an emergency call the police on triple zero (000).
Let them know that resources and information are available on the Queensland Government Domestic and Family Violence website.
Looking after yourself
Supporting someone who is experiencing domestic and family violence can be difficult.
It can take a heavy emotional toll, especially as it can take many attempts for the victim to leave, or they may choose to stay in the relationship.
You might feel:
- frustrated or angry that they haven't left the relationship.
- powerless to change the situation.
- afraid or 'out of your depth'.
- pressured to help more than you are able.
It's important to establish boundaries. Be clear with your friend, family member or neighbour about how much and what sort of support you can give.
Get support for yourself if required. Talk to a counsellor at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or other domestic violence services. You can also talk to a trusted friend or family member (but be careful not to break confidentiality or place the person being abused at further risk).
- Don’t wait for someone else to do it.
- Some people think calling the police won’t help. But it is incredibly important. Police records will be updated to deal urgently with future situations at that address. The victim will have a record of police calls that will help them obtain a Domestic Violence Order at a later date. The abuser will know that the community does not accept their conduct.