What can you do when someone you know is experiencing domestic violence?

WCWD small poster reducedWhat can we do when we know (or suspect) that a friend, family member, colleague, neighbour or somebody we know is experiencing domestic violence or family violence?

If you feel that someone you know is at risk, approach them about the abuse in a sensitive way. If a friend tells you that they are being abused, listen to them, believe them and take them seriously. But then what?

A few years ago some colleagues (Dee Brooks and Craig Hammond) explored what other people had found helped in this situation. Based on conversations with over 200 people (including survivors of domestic violence, family members and community workers), here are 73 suggestions for things you can do to provide support and encouragement.


Show them they are not alone by:
1.    telling them you are concerned
2.    checking in with them
3.    listening to and believing them
4.    being non-judgemental
5.    being aware of their wellbeing and safety
6.    letting them know you are there
7.    giving them time and space to talk
8.    giving them a quiet place to sit
9.    providing time out for a laugh and a smile
10.    reminding them of their strengths and abilities
11.    respecting their cultural or religious values & beliefs
12.    being patient
13.    being there for the long haul

To be able to help you need to be informed.
Find out about:
14.    ways to help by talking to somebody who knows (e.g., National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service, Phone 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732)
15.    available services & safe accommodation options
16.    where to access resources or information
17.    how to help if drugs or alcohol are an issue
18.    the impact of domestic violence on children
19.    the long-term effects of abuse or violence

Take the abuse seriously and don’t avoid the issue!
Discuss with them:
20.    what support they want or need
21.    what is the best way you can help them
22.    who else could help – other family or friends
23.    what they don’t want you to do
24.    how safe they feel
25.    what they can do to protect themselves
26.    ways to keep hopeful and in control

Encourage them so they can stay strong and make decisions.
Support them by:
27.    letting them know they are not to blame
28.    helping them to recognise an abusive situation
29.    not being negative about their partner
30.    affirming you will be there whether they leave or stay
31.    sharing what you have learnt about abuse or domestic violence
32.    respecting their decisions


Give practical assistance. Offer them:
33.    a helping hand
34.    a safe place to stay
35.    a cup of tea or coffee
36.    a cooked meal
37.    transport
38.    support to go to the police or court
39.    access to a phone and phone book
40.    help to get a mobile phone
41.    help with their children
42.    help to call a Domestic Violence service
43.    help to learn about local support services for them and their children
44.    help to obtain financial or legal advice
45.    help with their pets
46.    other help they ask for

Help them be safe. Support and encourage them to:
47.    call 000 or a Domestic Violence service
48.    think through their options
49.    develop and use a safety plan
50.    pack an escape bag and hide it in a safe place
51.    find out about Apprehended Violence Orders
52.    find out about other legal support services
53.    use a secret code word or action when needed
54.    build confidence in themselves

Let them know there are others who can help.
They could ring or visit:
55.    a local neighbourhood centre for advice
56.    a disability service if appropriate
57.    their local church
58.    a refuge (call Lifeline on 13 11 14, in Australia)
59.    the police (call 000, in Australia)
60.    other community services


It is important that we help keep kids safe.
If children are involved you could:
61.    call 000 or DoCS (13 21 11, in NSW Australia) if children  are at risk of harm
62.    help develop a safety plan
63.    be consistent in their lives
64.    remind them it’s not their fault
65.    do fun things
66.    allow them to talk about it
67.    provide opportunities for self-expression


68.    keep yourself safe as well!
69.    be realistic about how much time you give
70.    you can only support someone if you are OK
71.    get some support for yourself
72.    if there is an immediate threat of violence call 000 (in Australia)
73.    stay strong and positive

Do you have any other suggestions?

It is important to realise that domestic and family violence is not only physical. It can also include:

  • emotional abuse
  • mental abuse
  • psychological abuse
  • physical abuse
  • social isolation
  • spiritual abuse
  • financial or economic control
  • sexual assault
  • stalking

Sometimes we wonder if it is OK to become involved. There are a few myths that can stop us lending a hand, but it is important to do what we can. Here are three myths.

MYTH: It’s not my business

Domestic and family violence is not a private issue, it’s everybody’s business and we can all make a difference. Some people say they only found the courage to change their situation once they had support.

With the ongoing support from family and friends, I’ve come from not caring what I looked like to wanting to live! Now I’m looking at a future and no-one’s going to stop me. (Kim, survivor of domestic violence)

MYTH: There’s nothing I can do

There are many things you can do to support someone experiencing domestic violence. According to survivors, simply being there and listening to them are two of the best ways to provide support.

I suggested to a friend of mine that she come stay with me or go to a refuge. Just talking with her about domestic violence and how I could support her helped her have the courage to take action. (Tammy, friend of domestic violence survivor)

MYTH: If they go back, they’ve made their own bed

There are many reasons why people return to an abusive or violent relationship. Ask them how you can best support them, be patient and let them know you will be there whatever decision they make.

Often people say, ‘She could get out if she wanted to, so I’m not doing nothing’. They don’t understand the power issues. I think the most important thing is to hang in there with her. If she chooses to stay don’t close the door on her but offer support and listen to her. (Chris, domestic violence worker)

Remember, there is something you can do. Don’t sit back and let it happen.

There is some more useful information and some good ideas at http://www.dvrcv.org.au/help-advice/guide-for-families-friends-and-neighbours/

(The project was funded by the Australian Government’s Domestic and Family Violence and Sexual Assault Initiative through the Office for Women.)

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Domestic violence, family, friends and neighbours
  2. Domestic and family violence – What about men?
  3. White Ribbon Day
  4. Domestic violence – why doesn’t she just leave?
  5. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  6. 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution


About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Social change, Working with communities and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What can you do when someone you know is experiencing domestic violence?

  1. Anonymous says:

    great explanation thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: What can you do when someone you know is experiencing domestic violence

  3. laylajane says:

    Reblogged this on Hello… and commented:
    Great suggestions about a very sensitive subject.


  4. Melanie suggested (on LinkedIn) that if they work for you, let them know (if at all possible) that they won’t lose their job.


  5. Graeme says:

    Thanks Leah for your great suggestion. I’ve added it to the list.


  6. Leah says:

    thanks for this. as a survivor of DV, I would add to this excellent list- don’t forget the pets. Sounds maybe trivial in the face of what is going on, but our companion animals are very important and are as vulnerable as ourselves to the effects of abusive relationships. Especially if children are involved, pets help to stabilise emotions. Leaving them behind is very difficult.


I'd love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.