How Can I Help a Friend?

Abuse looks different in every circumstance.

However, there are some common indicators that should give us reason for concern. While many of the factors alone may not be cause to suspect abuse, considered within the context of the other factors, they can indicate a pattern of Power and Control that characterizes domestic abuse.

Does the person about whom you are worried…

  • Act like something is wrong? People experiencing abuse may display a range of emotions, including anger, anxiety, sadness, stress, or fear. They may seem restless, preoccupied, jumpy, or agitated. They may try to hide their emotions or be reluctant to share their feelings openly, or to discuss their partner or relationship.
  • Seem to be withdrawing from friends, family and community, perhaps by changing plans, backing out of commitments, or not answering the phone or the door? Isolation is a common tactic that abusers use to keep their partners of having a healthy support system.
  • Miss work unexpectedly, arrive late, or frequently call in sick? Do they receive lots of personal phone calls from their partner while at work? Do they try to arrange their schedule according to their partner’s wishes? Do they seem unable to focus on the job? Abusive people frequently focus their tactics on their partner’s job, because that job affords the partner things that represent a threat to their control—for example, income, health insurance, emotional support, connection with supportive people, etc.
  • Have to ask a partner’s permission to have or spend money? Have major financial difficulties, such as foreclosure or bankruptcy? Abusers often use access to finances as a way of controlling behavior and rendering their partner dependent upon them.
  • Have bruises, broken bones, black eyes or other unexplained injuries? These can be signs of physical abuse—especially if seen often or repeatedly.

These are just some potential warning signs; the list is not meant to be exhaustive, but instead is a starting place for concerned questions. There are many ways abuse manifests.

If you are worried about someone in your life, there are actions you can take to help. For starters:

  • Inform yourself. Gather all the information you can about domestic abuse. This website is a great place to start.
  • Call the helpline. One of the biggest myths is that our helpline is only for people experiencing abuse directly, but one of an advocate’s most important roles is to help others in the community offer real support the survivors they know. An advocate can be an excellent source of support for both you and the person you want to help. Do not call the helpline for someone else. Call to educate yourself and find out how to be most supportive and helpful to someone who is being abused.
  • Ask the questions… And believe the answers. Often, people experiencing abuse are experiencing isolation and control. They are frequently told that no one really cares what happens to them, or that no one will believe them. By asking them about their experience without judgment or agenda, you are sending the message that you care about what is happening to them.
    Initiating this conversation can be difficult. Some tips to help:

    • Say what you see: “I heard your partner yelling at you the other evening…”
    • Express concern: “I am worried about you.”
    • Show support: “No one deserves to be treated that way.”
    • Refer them for help: “I have the phone number to…”

If your friend begins to talk about the abuse:

  • Just Listen. Listening can be one of the best ways to help. Don’t imagine you will be the one person to “save” your friend. Instead, recognize that it takes a lot of strength and courage to live with an abusive partner, and understand your role as a support person, rather than “fixer” or “expert.”
  • Keep it Confidential. Don’t tell other people that they may not want or be ready to tell. If there is a direct threat of violence, tell them that you both need to tell someone right away, and call either the helpline or 911 in an emergency.
  • Provide Information, Not Advice. Give them the phone number to the helpline (1.866.834.HELP) or to their local domestic violence resource center. Be careful about giving advice. They know best how to judge the risks they face.
  • Be There and Be Patient. Coping with abuse takes time. Your friend may not do what you expect them to do when you expect them to do it. If you think it is your responsibility to fix the problems, you may end up feeling frustrated. Instead, focus on building trust, and remember that your friend is the one who will have to live with the consequences of the decision-making, and is doing their best to manage those risks in a complex situation.

Remember—if you are worried about someone you know, or if you have questions about behaviors that seems concerning, call the helpline: 1.866.834.HELP. An advocate can talk to you about your concerns and can help you decide what to do next.