What to Do If You Think Your Friend Is Experiencing Domestic Abuse

Signs to look for, what to say, and how to get them help.

What to Do If You Think Your Friend Is Experiencing Domestic Abuse

"Domestic violence" can feel like a big phrase. But it actually hits close to home for a lot of people. The term "domestic violence" describes physical, verbal, sexual, and/or psychological abuse in a relationship that millions of adults experience from their partner each year. This aggression can lead to increased stress, depression, serious injury or even death. So, if you suspect a friend is experiencing abuse — of any kind — in their relationship, it's incredibly important to watch for the signs and help them stay safe.

What Is Domestic Violence & Abuse?

Domestic abuse refers to the pattern of behaviors that a person uses to control or gain power over a partner. It can be physical, verbal, sexual, psychological, or any combination of them. Here is a look at just some of the behaviors someone might experience:

  • Biting, kicking, slapping, pulling hair, choking them
  • Preventing them from leaving the home or doing another activity outside the home
  • Forcing them to use drugs or alcohol
  • Throwing objects at them
  • Constantly calling them names or insulting them
  • Acting jealous or possessive
  • Controlling what they wear or look like
  • Gaslighting them
  • Blaming them for the abuse
  • Damaging their belongings
  • Threatening them with cheating, violence, or leaving
  • Forcing them to have sex (rape) or hurting them during sex
  • Keeping their money away from them
  • Tracking their activities through social media
  • Showing up at their home or workplace unannounced
  • Sending unwanted gifts or messages

These are just some of the behaviors someone can experience in an abusive relationship. Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline to learn more.

What Signs Should You Look for in a Friend?

Friends and family may not always witness the abuse firsthand. It can be kept behind the closed doors of the home. However, there are other warning signs you could see in your friendship that may indicate they are experiencing abuse or violence in their relationship. Here are some examples:

  • They say their partner doesn't like them spending time with you
  • They have started dressing differently
  • They cancel plans abruptly
  • Their mood has changed
  • They have scratches, cuts or bruises they didn't get from work or their typical activities
  • They put their partners needs before their own

How to Talk to Your Friend About What You See

Having a conversation about abuse and violence can be hard or uncomfortable. But you can open the floor by focusing on love, compassion, validation and concern. Here are a few tips to remember when talking to your friend:

  • Be non-judgmental and open
  • Acknowledge their difficult and scary situation
  • Be supportive & listen
  • Avoid telling them to "just leave"
  • Ask them questions about what their experience is like
  • Let them know you are concerned or afraid for their safety or health
  • Offer to store belongings or personal items for them
  • Let them know they are not alone & there is help

For more conversation tips and talking points, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence here.

How to Get Your Friend Help

Every domestic abuse situation is unique, and people stay in relationships for different and often complicated reasons. Remember, the abuse is about power and control. So, while you may not be able to personally "rescue" your friend, you can offer the support they need and provide resources for professional help. Here are two national groups:

National Domestic Violence Hotline
Counselors are available 24/7 to talk:

  • Phone: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • Text: Send "START" to 88788
  • Chat: Click here

Let your friend know these lines are available and can remain anonymous for their safety in the relationship. The Hotline can help them create a practical safety plan for the days ahead — and for when or if they decide to leave the relationship. Your friend can also use the Hotline to find local counselors, advocates and shelters, as well as legal help, healthcare and more.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
The Coalition also offers confidential 24/7 help:

  • Call: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Your friend can also find tips for telling law enforcement about their situation and getting legal help. The Coalition also offers help building a safety plan and provides financial education classes (like how to safely save money and transition out of a shared home).

If your friend is in immediate danger or in a life-threatening situation, 9-1-1 should be called.

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