How to recognize and help victims of domestic abuse

According to statistics by the National Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, 1 in every 3 women and 1 in every 9 men in the US are victims of severe domestic abuse from their partners, so the chances of knowing someone who is in such a dreadful situation are quite high. Oftentimes, however, the signs of domestic abuse aren’t noticed by other people, and so the victims are left to fend for themselves. 

Of course, there’s the option to seek help, but most victims are unwilling or unable to do that due to a lot of factors. Often, the victim may feel immense fear that things would get even worse if anyone finds out about the abuse, or they might be materially dependent on their abusive partner. The situation gets even more complicated if there are children involved which, unfortunately, is very often the case. 

All in all, very few people, who are being subjected to domestic abuse, will actually seek help or even confide their situation to a friend or a relative. This is exactly why one must be aware of the domestic violence red flags, and know what they can do to help a person who is being abused. If you have a friend or a relative who you think might be getting abused, read the following lines to learn what are some potential signs of abuse and what you can do to help that person.

Domestic abuse red flags

Although most victims of domestic abuse are likely to attempt to make it seem as if everything is okay with their lives, often, the potential red flags are easy to notice if you are paying attention. This is especially true when talking about people that you know well, because domestic abuse will pretty much always cause some noticeable changes in a person’s typical behavior, mood, and even character. Besides, there are also the physical signs - bruises, scars, marks, etc. - that could be an indicator of domestic violence, and those are often in plain sight.

Behavioral red flags

The better you know a person, the easier it is to tell that something is not right in their lives, but even if you aren’t too familiar with somebody, there are still some red flags related to their behavior that can indicate that they are getting abused at home.

  • Refuses to speak too much about their partner or constantly tries to justify their actions.
  • Is constantly on edge, frequently checks their phone, and always tries to get home early.
  • Constantly finds different excuses to not go out with friends or always cancels plans to go out at the last minute.
  • Avoids introducing you to their partner or acts very differently when their partner is nearby, as opposed to when it’s just the two of you.
  • Suffers from depression, anxiety, and has a lot of stress.
  • Has quit their job or dropped out of school/university/college and now primarily stays at home.

Those were some common signs that someone may be getting physically and/or emotionally abused by their partner, but note that they still don’t guarantee that there’s any actual abuse taking place. However, if you notice such red-flags, especially in a person you know, who has recently entered a relationship, it may be a good idea to try to tactfully talk to them to find out more about their current situation. 

Physical red flags

Not every bruise or injury speaks of domestic abuse - what’s important in this case is how the person reacts to them. For example, a red flag would be if someone is trying really hard to conceal or cover a bruise or a mark on their body. Another sign of domestic abuse is if the person is going out of their way to explain the circumstances around what caused their injury, putting extra effort in trying to convince you that what has happened to them was simply “an accident”. In such situations, you may want to drop the topic for the time being, so as not to make the person more uncomfortable, but try to inquire about their injury again, at a later time. 

All this is especially important if you’ve already noticed any of the behavioral red flags that we mentioned in the previous paragraph. Those, combined with suspicious bruises or marks on the body give a pretty high likelihood that the person in question is a victim of domestic abuse.

What to do if you know someone who is getting abused

You first need to understand that domestic abuse situations can be very complex, and you need to be very careful and considerate if you truly wish to help, and not makes matters even worse for the victim. The first thing you should do is, obviously, to talk to them when you two are in a safe space, away from the potential abuser, so that the victim can speak openly. Have patience - they may need time to admit what’s happening in their lives, so don’t get pushy.

If the person is truly a victim of domestic abuse, and they tell you that, then you two need to take as much time as needed to explore the situation from every angle and to come up with the best strategy to tackle the issue. For example, immediately leaving the abuser may not always be a good decision, especially if there are kids involved. Offer whatever help you can provide (e.g. money, a place to stay, physical protection, contact with the authorities), but acknowledge that, ultimately, it’s the victim’s decision how to handle the situation. You should never act on your own when it comes to helping a domestic abuse victim, unless you are one hundred percent sure that this is the only way to improve their situation.

How to help victims of domestic abuse

The best way to help a domestic abuse victim is to first become better acquainted with this type of situation. As we already mentioned, a situation where there’s domestic abuse can be extremely complicated, so you need to know how to approach it in a way that will not end up causing further harm to the victim. 

Reading books on the subject of domestic abuse or talking to an expert in the field can be helpful. Another recommended method is to take part in a domestic abuse course, where everything, from how to recognize victims to how to help them in a safe and responsible way, will be explained to you in great detail. This will ensure that your closest people have someone to count on if they ever fall into the nightmare of an abusive relationship.

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