What to do if you suspect a friend or family member is a victim of domestic abuse
If you suspect a friend or family member is suffering from domestic abuse, it can be incredibly difficult to know what to do. On the one hand, you may feel it is your duty to protect the person, and therefore step in and take action. However, is it your place to do so? Does this cross a line? What if your suspicions are wrong?
According to Refuge, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, which is an incredibly high figure. To help raise awareness about domestic abuse, we asked Helen Thewlis, Head of Family Law at Ramsdens Solicitors, to answer some questions about what action you should take if you suspect someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse. Helen has handled many cases of domestic violence in her years of specialising in family law.
What are the common signs that someone is suffering from domestic abuse?
Every situation is different, but below are some of the most common signs to look out for. One of the biggest indicators of domestic abuse is a change a person’s behaviour, particularly if they seem to be isolating themselves.
- Declining invitations or asking their partner’s permission before committing to an activity or social event
- Losing contact with friends and family they used to be close to
- Loss of interest or motivation in things they previously enjoyed
- Reduced self-esteem or loss of confidence
- A change in behaviour, such as mood swings, or more withdrawn
- Physical signs such as (but not limited to): bruising, cuts, burns, etc. They may also intentionally wear clothing to cover up physical abrasions and deflect questions about them
- Loss of control over finances, career and/or how they spend their spare time
- Being humiliated or maliciously mocked by their abuser in social situations
- Being defensive of their partner, if questioned about their attitude/behaviour
How should I approach the subject with the victim?
I would advise against contacting the police on the victim’s behalf without speaking to them beforehand, unless you are worried they are at serious risk from harm, as this could cause more problems for them. When you are ready to approach the subject with the victim, do so carefully. Don’t be offended or disheartened if they try to dismiss the topic; it is possible they may even express anger. They may even defend their abuser and try to rationalise their actions. Just try to remember that this is an incredibly difficult time for them and it is likely they are being emotionally manipulated.
Make it clear to the victim that they are not alone and that you will always be there to help them take action, when they are ready to.
What steps should I take to help the victim?
If the victim is showing signs of physical harm, I highly recommend keeping an eye witness account in a diary format (dates are important).
If they have admitted to you that they are a victim, help them to prepare an exit strategy. Their abuser may be monitoring their online activity, which could compromise their safety so offer for them to do any research on your devices, at your house. Also offer to keep hold of any evidence they are collecting against their abuser and store it somewhere safe, where their abuser will not find it.
Offer to accompany them for support when they are ready to go to the police, counselling or to seek legal advice. If they are currently feeling reluctant to take action, they may be feeling overwhelmed and confused so you can help by researching some of the more practical steps, such as financial help, recommended solicitors and support groups.
Should I confront the abuser?
The main thing to remember in the situation is that you are there to support your friend or family member. They will be feeling vulnerable and isolated, so it is paramount that you clearly communicate that they are not alone in the situation and encourage them to do what is best for their own safety and that of any children they have.