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How to Know When Someone is Being Abused

Abuse looks different in every circumstance.

However, there are some common indicators that can serve as warning signs. While many of the factors listed below may not be cause to suspect abuse when considered alone, 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…

  • Have bruises, broken bones, black eyes or other unexplained injuries? These can be signs of physical abuse—especially if seen often or repeatedly.
  • 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.
  • 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 tactic abusers use to keep their victims 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 at work?
  • 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.

These are just some potential warning signs; the list is not meant to be exhaustive, but instead is meant to be a starting place for inquiry. There are many ways abuse manifests. The Power and Control Wheel presents a different way of looking for warning signs—by examining the abuser’s behavior, which you may also witness.

Remember—if you are worried about someone you know, or if you have questions about a behavior 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. It’s completely confidential and available anytime, night or day.