It's impossible to know for sure what's happening in someone else's relationship. It can be very difficult if you're worried about your friend or family member, and you may feel helpless, especially if the suspected victim is reluctant to discuss it or denies that there's a problem.
There are a number of warning signs of domestic abuse. If you notice any of these signs in a friend, family member, or colleague, it's important that you take them seriously. It can take as many as 35 incidents of domestic abuse before someone asks for help.
If they do tell you what's happening, you must listen, stay calm, and reassure them. Remember you may be the first person they've told.
What are the signs someone is at risk of domestic abuse?
Look out for the warning signs which might indicate someone is at risk of domestic abuse:
- changes in their behaviour or appearance
- no longer spending time with friends or family, cancelling arrangements at short notice, making excuses about not attending planned events
- spending all their free time with their partner
- defending their partner and their actions, and making excuses for their partner's behaviour
- their partner insulting them in front of other people
- constantly seeming worried about making their partner angry, having to 'check in' with their partner
- their partner being extremely jealous or possessive
- having unexplained marks or injuries
- being depressed or anxious, or their personality changing
If you think your friend or family member is being abused, be supportive by listening to them and asking questions about how they’re doing. They may not be ready or able to leave the relationship right now.
How can I help someone?
Set up a time to talk and give them a safe space
Try to make sure you have privacy and will not be distracted or interrupted. Make sure they know they can contact or visit you if they need to. Where possible, try to visit them at their home.
Let them know you're worried about them
Be honest and tell them why you're worried. They may not respond right away, and they may even get defensive or deny the abuse. Let them know you want to help and will be there to support them whatever decision they make.
Listen to them. Bear in mind that it may be very hard to talk about the abuse. Let them know they're not alone. If they want help, ask them what they want you to do.
Offer specific help
You might say you're willing to listen to them talk, to help with childcare, or to help with transport.
Do not say 'you just need to leave'. Instead, say something like, 'I get scared thinking about what might happen to you.'
Help them make a safety plan
Safety planning might include packing important items and helping them find a 'safe word'. This is a code word they can use to let you know they're in danger, without the abuser realising they've told you. It might also include agreeing on a safe place to meet them if they need to leave in a hurry. Women's Aid has lots of helpful information about making a safety plan.
Encourage them to talk to an organisation which can help
Specialist domestic abuse services can offer support and information to those living with, trying to escape, or who have escaped, domestic abuse. Local domestic abuse support organisations include:
- My Sisters Place - phone 01642 241864 or email email@example.com
- Harbour Support Services - phone 03000 20 25 25 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Halo - phone 01642 683045 or email email@example.com
If they decide to stay, keep being supportive
They may decide to stay in the relationship, or leave and then go back many times. It might be hard for you to understand, but people stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Be supportive, no matter what they decide to do.
If they decide to leave, keep offering help
Even though their relationship was abusive, they may still feel very sad and lonely once it's over. They may need help to contact support organisations or community groups so they feel less isolated.
Let them know you'll always be there no matter what
It can be very worrying and frustrating to see a loved one stay in an abusive relationship. But if you end your relationship with them, it means one less safe place they can go in the future. You cannot force a person to leave a relationship, but you can let them know you will help, whatever they decide to do.
Should I report it?
If you think someone is at immediate risk of harm: call 999. Do not worry that they'll be angry with you for calling for help. You do not have to give your name if you're afraid for your own safety.
If you want to report abuse but there's no immediate danger: call the police on 101. Explain your concerns, giving them as much detail as you can about the suspected abuse and people involved.
If you're worried about a child witnessing or experiencing domestic abuse: contact Middlesbrough Multi-Agency Children's Hub on 01642 726004.
If you're worried about a vulnerable adult who may be experiencing domestic abuse: contact the adult social care team by calling 01642 065070 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.