SHARE: How to talk to a friend who is in an abusive relationship.

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We would all like to believe that the people we know and love – our family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues – live free from violence. However, statistics reveal that one in three Australian women over the age of 15 have reported experiencing physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives. Violence against women transcends the boundaries of age, culture, ethnicity, religion, disability, and socio-economic status. It can happen to anyone and many women deal with it alone.

It can be difficult to know how to appropriately offer support or intervene in circumstances of violence. Nonetheless, a growing number of people are asking: ‘How can I offer support to someone experiencing domestic violence? What can I do if I realise a man I know is abusing and controlling his female partner? How can I be part of the solution to prevent men’s violence against women?’

Many people, both witnesses and victims, don't know how to talk about domestic violence.
Many people, both witnesses and victims, don’t know how to talk about domestic violence.


If you suspect someone you know is being abused:

Many people still perceive domestic and family violence as a ‘private matter’ and worry they will be seen as ‘interfering’ if they say something or offer support. But violence has a profound and damaging impact on its victims, the family and the community as a whole.

We all have an obligation to speak out and not remain silent. If done sensitively, expressions of concern and support can help a woman experiencing abuse feel less isolated and reinforce the message that men’s violence against women is never the women’s fault and should not be tolerated.

  • Approach in an uncritical, sensitive manner.
  • Tell her you’re concerned and explain why – ‘I’ve noticed you have been withdrawn lately. I’m worried.’
  • Be patient and don’t force the issue.
  • Don’t be offended if she chooses not to disclose her experience. Commonly held misconceptions about men’s violence against women can make it difficult for victims/survivors to speak about their experience.
  • Just knowing you’re there can make a difference. 
How can you help someone who tells you about their experience of domestic violence?

Violence against women is under-reported, and research shows that a victim of violence is more likely to discuss and disclosed their experience to a friend or family member than to the police or another public authority.

When you respond supportively and respectfully to a female friend, work colleague, or other who is living with violence, it makes a difference. Abused women’s psychological wellbeing and their ability to escape from abuse are shaped by the levels of material and emotional support they receive.

It is important to know how to react if this occurs. If someone starts talking to you, some simple advice includes:

  • Find a safe/quiet place to talk.
  • Listen – this may be the first time she has spoken about the experience.
  • Believe her story – too often people do not believe a woman when she first discloses abuse.
  • Hold the perpetrator responsible for the violence and abuse.
  • Maintain a non-judgmental attitude and reassure her that it is not her fault
  • Focus on supporting her and building her self confidence
  • Acknowledge her strengths and frequently remind her that she is coping with a challenging and stressful situation.
  • A woman suffering abuse often feels isolated – help her develop or continue her outside contacts.
  • If she has not spoken to anyone else, encourage her to seek help from local domestic violence agencies that understand her experience and offer specialist support and advice (see link below).
  • Be patient and support her choices – don’t dictate them.


If you witness violence:

People often mistakenly believe that there are only two responses to instances of actual or potential violence – intervene physically and potentially expose them to harm, or do nothing.  Consequently, they often choose to do nothing. One of the most traumatic issues for victims or survivors is that others do nothing. Furthermore, this is a false and limited set of choices. Abusive situations can be  dangerous – stop and think before becoming involved. However, as a society we have an obligation to be ‘active bystanders’. By intervening in a violent situation you are not just lessening immediate physical harm – you are sending a message that abuse is not tolerated.


Things to do:

Don’t endanger your own safety. Call 000 in an emergency.

  • Call the police.
  • Be a witness. Stand far enough away to be safe but close enough for the violent person to see you and be aware that they are being watched.
  • Get others’ support. Ask others who are nearby to help.
  • Verbally intervene. Tell the violent person clearly that their actions are not okay, they are a crime, and you are calling the police. Ask the victim if they need help. You can use phrases like
  1.  “Are you okay, do you need a taxi?”
  2. Say something to the man: “Hey, what are you doing?” “That’s not on, mate.”
  3. Stick around to make sure the situation has cooled down.
  4. Create a distraction – so that the abused person has time to get away or the perpetrator slows down or ceases their violence. For example, ask a man harassing a woman on the street for directions or the time.


If you’re aware of violence:

  • 'Talk to the woman – at some point – and let her know you saw what was going on and you’re willing to help her.'
    ‘Talk to the woman – at some point – and let her know you saw what was going on and you’re willing to help her.’

    Talk to a friend who is verbally or physically abusive to his partner in a private, calm moment, rather than in public or directly after an abusive incident. Tell him that what you witnessed was not okay, and he needs to get some help.

  • Talk to a group of the perpetrator’s friends and, together, decide on a course of action.
  • If you have witnessed a friend or colleague abusing a partner, talk to a group of the victim’s friends and strategise a group response.
  • Talk to the woman – at some point – and let her know you saw what was going on and you’re willing to help her.
  • If you’re a high school or college student, approach a trusted teacher, social worker, or health professional. Tell them what you’ve observed and ask them to do something, or ask them to advise you on how you might proceed.

In situations where your friends are engaged in harassing or abusive behaviour, such as sexually harassing a woman walking by, you can:

  • Distract your friends by saying something like “chill out, guys” or “hey mate that’s not on”.
  • Try to convince your peers to stop.
  • Walk away, signalling your rejection of their harassing behaviour.


Standing up to violence:

Speaking up against violence can be tricky and varies depending on the situation. To show you are against violence, you can:

  • Make your concern known. You can say something like, “Hey mate, that’s sexist and I don’t think it’s funny”, or “I think those words are really hurtful” and refrain from laughing when you’re expected to.
  • Personalise the violence or injustice. Bring it home. Say something like, “What if that was your sister / daughter / mother?” orI hope no one ever talks about you like that.”
  • Remind him that she has feelings and rights. “Just like your mum or your sister, she has the right to be treated with respect and as an equal.”
  • Ask for an explanation, by saying “What are you doing?” or “What are you saying?”
  • Remind him of his ‘best self’, with a phrase like “Come on mate, you are better than that.”
  • Use your friendship. You could say, “Hey mate… as your friend I’ve gotta tell you that getting a girl drunk to have sex with her isn’t cool, and could get you in a lot of trouble. Don’t do it.”
  • Invite group pressure. For example, “I don’t feel good about this. Does anyone else feel uncomfortable too?”

To view some of these techniques in practice, please click here.

This information is adapted from Dr Michael Flood’s report, Men Speak Up: A toolkit for action in men’s daily lives.


Look after yourself:

It is important to always consider your own well being when supporting a victim/survivor of violence. Assisting in this way can be a frightening and stressful experience. If you feel out of your depth, contact an appropriate service provider for advice. Remember that you cannot ‘rescue’ someone in this situation but never underestimate the significance of your support.


Finding help:

For a list of national and state services please visit the White Ribbon website.

Note: The language is this document reflects situations involving a male perpetrator and female victim. White Ribbon Australia also recognises that males can be victims of violence and females can be perpetrators.

White Ribbon is the world’s largest male-led movement to end men’s violence against women. White Ribbon Australia is a non-profit organisation and Australia’s only national, male-led primary prevention campaign to end men’s violence against women. You can visit their website here.


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