Support someone experiencing domestic and family violence

Signs of domestic and family violence

You may suspect that a person you know is a victim of domestic and family violence. Here are some possible indicators. The person may:

  • seem intimidated or frightened by their partner or withdrawn or reluctant to speak, and the children may seem timid, frightened or too well behaved in the partner's presence
  • be overly anxious to please their partner
  • say their partner constantly follows, rings or texts them wanting to know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with
  • be regularly criticised or verbally put down by their partner in front of you
  • change their behaviour in the presence of their partner
  • become quiet during a conversation with their partner, or their partner dominates the direction of the conversation
  • be given a look, action or gesture from their partner that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • say their partner is jealous and possessive and accuses them of having affairs with, talking to or thinking about other people
  • refer to their partner or family member as having a bad temper or being moody, especially when they have been drinking
  • seem concerned by their partner's use of drugs, alcohol or general wellbeing
  • repeatedly have bruises, marks, burns, scratches, broken bones or other injuries that are inconsistent with the explanation provided
  • wear inappropriate clothing in summer months such as scarves and long sleeves or wear heavy make-up and sunglasses inside to hide signs of physical abuse
  • often be late to work or appointments or cancel meetings with you at the last minute
  • stop seeing or speaking with you, friends and family
  • say their partner controls the money (i.e. gives them none or not enough and makes them account for every cent that is spent)
  • be reluctant to work from home or return home after a day out or in the office
  • indicate their partner makes the big decisions around the home, including decisions about parenting, finances, who to socialise with, where they go and how they spend their time.

What can you do to help?

Most importantly your friend or family member needs your support. Even if there is not any immediate change, your support may help them to consider their options and ultimately ensure their safety.

The initial discussion about domestic and family violence can be difficult. A controlling partner often blames the victim for the violence, so an abused person may be afraid of being judged and be defensive.

  • The victim may be willing to talk if they feel safe and trust you.
  • Only try to start a conversation if the person is alone in a place where it is safe to speak with you (consider the possibility of surveillance) and there is enough time to talk about the issue.
  • Start by exploring what you have seen, heard or felt. Questions such as "I am worried about you because I don't get to see you often anymore" or "You look unhappy lately" may help get the conversation started.
  • It is important that you believe what they tell you. They are more likely to downplay the abuse rather than exaggerate it. Many abusers are charming to others. What you see of their behaviour may be very different to their behaviour towards their partner.
  • Try not to offer advice about what you would do, as often this can make the person feel under pressure. Knowing there is someone available to support them, and that support is ongoing, is valuable.
  • It is important that you listen and are not judgemental or critical. Do not tell them what to do but help them to explore options that are available.
  • When they finish talking let them know you care and ask them how you can help. Make it clear that it is the person using violent or abusive behaviour who is responsible for their behaviour and not them. The person experiencing the violence or abuse cannot make a person stop being abusive, no matter how hard they try.
  • Avoid putting the perpetrator down. This can make victims feel more isolated and judged and risks them not disclosing more.
  • You should let them know there are organisations that can help, including services to help them escape the violence if that's what they want to do. If you think it's important to seek professional assistance, encourage the person to do this on their own behalf. Do some of your own research about the local domestic and family violence services so you have some information to provide them.
  • If you think you might need to seek professional advice to help you better assist your friend or family member, it is important to let them know you might do this. Reassure them you can discuss the situation with a professional organisation without revealing their name or any identifying details.
  • Remain committed to the relationship you have with them regardless of their choices. At the same time, remind them everyone has the right to live free from violence. If they want to go to a refuge or safe place, support them to do so. If they are in immediate danger, call the police on Triple Zero (000).

It is important to protect yourself from danger. Being an effective bystander does not mean you are required to put yourself in danger or do anything that does not feel safe or appropriate for you. Please look after yourself first and seek support should you feel you need it.

What if the victim does not want to talk?

If they do not want to talk, express your concern for them anyway. Tell them that domestic and family violence is never okay, they have done nothing to deserve or cause it, and it is not their fault. You need to reassure them that you will stand by them, and be ready to talk or help, when they ask.

My friend won’t leave the relationship…what can I do?

It is natural to be concerned and wish for your friend or family member to be safe. However, there are many reasons why your friend may stay in the relationship. They may stay because of love, fear, financial reasons, family loyalty or duty, familiarity and/or uncertainty about the future. They may feel it is safer for them to stay in the relationship than to leave, at least for the time being. Be conscious that it is never easy to make a significant decision about the future and that placing pressure on the person to leave can be unhelpful.

Ending any relationship is difficult and where domestic and family violence is occurring it can be very risky. There may be a number of reasons why a victim feels they cannot leave a violent relationship. They may:

  • fear for their life, the lives of their children or family following a threat from the perpetrator
  • believe they have nowhere to go or that they will be found wherever they go
  • believe their partner's promise to end the violence and hope the relationship can continue free from violence or control
  • believe they cannot cope by themselves or alone with their children
  • be encouraged or persuaded by others (such as family, friends, minister, community elder) to stay in the relationship or give their partner another chance to change
  • have a cultural or religious belief that marriage is forever
  • fear they will be isolated from family and friends
  • feel ashamed and believe that the violence is their fault
  • hope that the violence will stop if they change their behaviour
  • have little or no access to money and believe they will not be able to support themselves or their children
  • be unwilling to take the children away from their home and the other parent, or fear losing their children in a custody battle
  • be reluctant to end the relationship after the years that have been invested.

Knowing they have your continued support is often the most valuable investment you can make in your friend. Remember the choice to use violence is in the hands of the perpetrator and never the responsibility of the victim and/or the bystander.

What should I say to the perpetrator of the violence?

As effective bystanders, we provide the same level of respect to those using harm as we do to those being harmed. Role-modelling respectful behaviour is vital to changing behaviour. When supporting perpetrators, offer support but do not condone their behaviour or the attitudes that may support their use of violence and control. Effective bystander intervention includes:

  • challenging sexist beliefs and attitudes
  • calling out jokes or put-downs made at their partner’s expense
  • being clear about the use of violence being a choice that has negative consequences.

However, you should exercise caution. Directly confronting or engaging this person about their violent behaviour may place you in danger and the person being abused at further risk.

What if children are involved?

The effects of domestic and family violence on children and young people are serious, even if they aren't the primary target of the violence or abuse.

If your friend or family member has children, you should share your concerns about the effect the violence or abuse has on them and the children, and ask how you can help them.

You can also:

If you are the parent or guardian of a child growing up in an abusive household, you could also:

  • tell them that they are loved and the violence is not their fault
  • encourage them to talk about their worries and what they are experiencing
  • make sure they know how to call for help, including how to call the Police on Triple Zero (000) and how to give the address of their home
  • get support from a domestic violence organisation
  • talk to a teacher, principal or a counsellor about your concerns
  • take yourself and your child to a safe place if necessary.

Remember, your safety is the priority.

Where should I refer the victim to get help?

It is important you continue to provide support. You can find information, services and support for people impacted by domestic and family violence on this website, however if they are in immediate danger please call the police on Triple Zero (000).

Support someone in the workplace

Domestic and family violence can impact a person's safety, wellbeing, attendance and performance at work.

We developed a domestic and family violence workplace package for government workplaces, which we encourage local government, businesses and non-government organisations to adopt to suit their workplaces. Access useful resources to help your workplace meet the needs of employees affected by domestic and family violence.

In addition to developing a supportive workplace, employers can also help someone experiencing domestic and family violence on a personal level. If you are concerned about domestic and family violence in your workplace, contact DVConnect Womensline on 1800 811 811 or Mensline on 1800 800 636 for confidential support, advice and referral that will help you explore your options.