Whether you suspect that a friend or family member is being abused or you witnessed someone being abused, you can take steps to help.
What are signs that someone may be abused?
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some warning signs include the following:1
Their partner insults them in front of other people.
They are constantly worried about making their partner angry.
They make excuses for their partner’s behavior.
Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
They have unexplained marks or injuries.
They’ve stopped spending time with friends and family.
They are depressed or anxious, or you notice changes in their personality.
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. The person being abused may not be ready or able to leave the relationship right now.
How can I help someone who is being abused?
Knowing or thinking that someone you care about is in a violent relationship can be very hard. You may fear for her safety — and maybe for good reason. You may want to rescue her or insist she leave, but every adult must make her own decisions.
Each situation is different, and the people involved are all different too. Here are some ways to help a loved one who is being abused:
Setupa time to talk. Try to make sure you have privacy and won’t be distracted or interrupted. Visit your loved one in person if possible.
Let her know you’re concerned about her safety. Be honest. Tell her about times when you were worried about her. Help her see that abuse is wrong. She may not respond right away, or she may even get defensive or deny the abuse. Let her know you want to help and will be there to support her in whatever decision she makes.
Be supportive. Listen to your loved one. Keep in mind that it may be very hard for her to talk about the abuse. Tell her that she is not alone and that people want to help. If she wants help, ask her what you can do.
Offer specific help. You might say you are willing to just listen, to help her with child care, or to provide transportation, for example.
Don’t place shame, blame, or guilt on her. Don’t say, “You just need to leave.” Instead, say something like, “I get scared thinking about what might happen to you.” Tell her you understand that her situation is very difficult.
Help her make a safety plan.Safety planning might include packing important items and helping her find a “safe” word. This is a code word she can use to let you know she is in danger without an abuser knowing. It might also include agreeing on a place to meet her if she has to leave in a hurry.
If she decides to stay, continue to be supportive. She may decide to stay in the relationship, or she may leave and then go back many times. It may be hard for you to understand, but people stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. Be supportive, no matter what she decides to do.
Encourage her to do things outside of the relationship. It’s important for her to see friends and family.
If she decides to leave, continue to offer help. Even though the relationship was abusive, she may feel sad and lonely once it is over. She may also need help getting services from agencies or community groups.
Let her know that you will always be there no matter what. It can be very frustrating to see a friend or loved one stay in an abusive relationship. But if you end your relationship, she has one less safe place to go in the future. You cannot force a person to leave a relationship, but you can let them know you’ll help, whatever they decide to do.
How do I report domestic violence or abuse?
If you see or hear domestic violence or child abuse in your neighborhood or in a public place, call 911. Don’t worry about whether the couple or person will be angry with you for calling. It could be a matter of life and death, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. You don’t have to give your name if you are afraid for your own safety.
If you want to report abuse but there is no immediate danger, ask local police or child/adult protective services to make a welfare check. This surprise check-in by local authorities may help the person being abused.
Did we answer your question about helping someone who is being abused?
For more information about helping someone who is being abused, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:
The Office on Women’s Health is grateful for the medical review by:
Kathleen C. Basile, Ph.D., Lead Behavioral Scientist, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Kathryn Jones, M.S.W., Public Health Advisor, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Sharon G. Smith, Ph.D., Behavioral Scientist, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Staff
All material contained on these pages are free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.