If you have a friend, family member, neighbour or colleague who you think may be in a relationship with a partner or an adult family member who has been abusive towards them, then this advice page will help you know what to do. Please be encouraged that you are not alone in your experiences, that there are things you can do to support the person you know and yourself, and that there are organisations which can offer assistance.

What is domestic abuse?

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”

The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological and emotional abuse
  • physical and sexual abuse
  • harassment
  • control and coercion

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, no matter what gender or sexuality.

Please visit this page for more information.

Why is it important to support someone who is experiencing domestic abuse?

Living free from violence and abuse is a basic human right. But people sometimes need support to help them realise that the way they are being treated is not OK, and that it is their right to live without being scared or intimidated, and without having their freedom limited by a partner or family member. In the past, domestic abuse was seen as a private matter between two people, with other people close to the situation often ignoring what was happening or excusing the abuse. However, abusing, controlling or coercing a partner or family member is against the law. There is never any excuse for domestic abuse. You may not know the full extent of what is happening, but either know or suspect something is not right in your friend or relative’s relationship. Remember too that domestic abuse can continue even after people have separated or are estranged in some way. With your help, the person may be able to keep themselves safer, think about ending the relationship and recover from the impacts of the abuse they have experienced.

How can I tell if a person I know is experiencing abuse?

Each person’s experience in an abusive relationship is different, and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a relationship that is challenging or unhealthy, and a relationship where one person is abusing another. You may find it difficult to be 100% sure where there’s no obvious physical injuries. But coercive, controlling and emotional abuse is very common and very harmful, so is just as important that you can spot these signs too. Remember that the abuser may behave very differently with everyone else, and your friend or relative who’s being abused may not think of their experiences as abuse. Even if they do know something’s not right in their relationship, they may not tell anyone for a variety of reasons, including because the abuser may have made threats to harm either your friend or relative, or someone close to them, including their pets and any children.

Signs of domestic abuse you might spot

  • Your friend or relative has injuries which don’t match with the account they give about how they hurt themselves.
  • They wear clothes that don’t seem appropriate for the weather or situation.
  • You hear about the abuser saying or doing things that belittle the person, for example insulting them, criticising them, making fun of their opinions and beliefs, or undermining the way the person parents their children or looks after their pets.
  • You don’t see them very often, seeing them becomes more infrequent.
  • When you do see them they are quieter than they used to be.
  • They receive lots of texts or calls from the person causing harm (or one of their associates, who maybe helping to monitor them).
  • Your friend or relative is reluctant to let the person causing harm to look after the children or pets.
  • The abuser is making lots of rules that the person has to follow, which can include: who they can see, what they can wear, what they can spend money on and how their home needs to be kept.
  • Your friend or relative changes their plans for the future, even though you know they did have certain goals or ambitions.
  • You’re asked to keep things secret from the abuser, for example who they have seen, plans they have made or things they have bought, because they are scared about what will happen if the abuser finds out. Even if the person you know has ended the relationship with the abuser, it is possible that abuse may continue especially if the abuser still has the person’s contact details or has access to the person, for example if they have children together.

What can I do to support the person I know?

Firstly, don’t try to ‘rescue’ the person, challenge the abuser or attempt to bring about the end of the relationship. Although you care for your friend or relative, any action has to be their decision, not yours. They may not even see their relationship as being domestic abuse even though you can.

If you want to ask them about your concerns, approach your friend or relative in a sensitive way, letting them know your concerns. Tell them you’re worried, then explain why. For example

I’m worried about you because I’ve noticed you seem stressed or not yourself lately.

Your friend or relative may not want to say anything. This is because they may be scared of admitting there’s a problem. Or even ashamed and embarrassed. Even though you’re trying to help, it’s not easy to admit to even people who you love and care for. Also, if your friend or relative is a man, he may feel particularly embarrassed about speaking about the abuse as he may be seen as ‘weak’ or
‘unmanly’.

Don’t push the person into talking if they are uncomfortable, but let them know that you’re there if they need to talk. Be patient, and keep an ear out for anything that indicates they are ready to talk about the abuse.

You don’t need to have all the answers, by listening you will be helping the person to admit what is happening, and this will break the silence around the situation. If your friend or relative admits of difficulties, then ask how it’s making them feel, that it doesn’t seem right, what can you do to help? Be sympathetic, but don’t say what you would do – every situation and person is different. Remember too that even though the abuse maybe very severe, your friend or relative may feel loyalty and even love for the person causing harm. It can take time for them realise they can live a different life and get help to support them make the change.

What can I do to help?

The most important thing you can do is to listen without judging and respect their decisions. If people have experienced emotional or psychological abuse and coercive control, then they may have “forgotten” how to make decisions on their own, and need confidence to believe in themselves. Here’s some tips to help you support your friend or relative

  • Listen to what they say.
  • Believe what you’re told and take it seriously.
  • Tell your friend or relative that they’re brave in speaking, try and instil confidence.
  • Help them understand that the abuse is not their fault.
  • Help them think about what they can do.
  • Offer practical assistance like looking after any children or pets or offering to help take them to appointments.
  • Keep in regular contact with them.

Remember that ending a relationship with an abusive partner or adult family member is an extremely difficult decision to make and it may take the person who is being abused some time to decide to do this and to work out how to do it safely (ending and leaving the relationship can increase the risk that the person will be harmed). When they are ready to end the relationship, then use these tips:

1. If they’re going to leave their home, encourage them to pack an emergency bag and to hide this in a safe place in case they need to leave quickly. Useful things to put in the bag include important documents such as passports and birth certificates, spare keys to their home or car, money, medications, some clothes and a few of the children’s favourite toys.
2. Help them to work out a plan for leaving including who they can call, where they might go, and how they can get there. It can be difficult to think about these things quickly, so helping the person to plan in advance is important.
3. Agree a code word with the person so they can signal to you if they are in danger or distressed and need you to access urgent help on their behalf.
4. If they have left the relationship, the person may need to change their contact details and think carefully about who they share them with, because some of the people they know will also know the abuser and may not keep this information secret.
5. Never discuss the situation with the person causing harm. However much you think it may help, it could make things worse for your friend or relative. It could even make things bad for you. Mediation and counselling is never advised in domestic abuse, due to the power, control, coercion and manipulation that occurs.

Reporting domestic abuse

It can be daunting and a huge responsibility helping someone who’s living with domestic abuse. If you’re unsure what to do, then you can contact the local Somerset Integrated Domestic Abuse Service on 0800 69 49 999 for advice or email youfirstsidas@theyoutrust.org.uk.

Remember domestic abuse is a crime. So you can report domestic abuse anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit their website. There are also other domestic abuse helplines and support services you can get advice from to help you manage your own emotions in helping your friend or relative. You can find some links to these in the Local agencies or National agencies page on this website.

Contact the police directly on 101 to talk to them about your concerns.  If someone is in immediate danger always call 999. 

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