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What to do if you suspect your friend is a victim of domestic abuse

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Friday 25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Domestic violence is extremely common – but if you suspect a friend might be being abused by their partner, it can be difficult to know how to help.

Helen Thewlis heads up the family law team at Ramsdens Solicitors and has years of experience in assisting victims of all different types of domestic abuse to free themselves from the situation and build a case against their abuser. Here, she reveals how you can help someone else safely escape from an abusive relationships.


Being friends with someone you suspect is a victim of domestic abuse is incredibly tough. Do you step in and help them, or is that crossing the line? Would that put their safety at risk?

There are ways in which you can help your friend, but it’s important to remember that she is likely going through a very difficult time, and may not react in the way you expect.

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Charlize Theron has spoken frequently about her father's violence towards her mother.

For a start, she might try to cover for or defend her abuser. This can be incredibly frustrating for you, but remember that there are a number of reasons why victims do this, including fear for their own or family members’ safety, emotional blackmail, societal pressures and being led to believe by their abuser that they are the cause of the problem.


Read more: A lawyer explains how to escape an abusive relationship


They may not even realise or accept that they are a victim – or they might believe that they deserve to be treated in this way, particularly if their abuser has coerced them into thinking so.

There are many different types of domestic abuse, from physical to emotional, financial and sexual, and some of these are harder to spot than others. But if you suspect that your friend may be at risk, there are common signs of abuse that you can look out for.

mariah carey

Mariah Carey with her ex-husband and former manager, Tommy Mottola. Years after their divorce, she spoke of his abusive behaviour.


Read more: “I want to teach women that anything is possible”: domestic violence survivors from around the world speak out


These include:

  • Turning down invitations to social events or activities they were previously interested in or being unable to commit to an activity without asking their abuser’s permission beforehand
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or work
  • Loss of self-esteem and confidence      
  • Mood swings or a change in behaviour
  • Bruising, cuts, burns, etc. or intentionally wearing clothing to cover them up and deflecting questions about how they sustained injuries
  • Isolation from friends or family they used to be close to
  • Loss of control over finances, career and/or how they spend their spare time
  • Abuser humiliates or criticises them frequently in social situations
  • Refuses to leave their partner because their abuser threatens to take custody of their child or children

Watch: what not to say to an anxiety sufferer


If you have a strong suspicion that your friend is a victim of domestic abuse, there are a number of different steps you can take. I highly recommend keeping a personal log of any instances of abuse you witness, on behalf of your friend. Even if they are not ready to admit that they are a victim yet, or you have not had a chance to broach the topic with them, gathering evidence on their behalf will prove incredibly helpful for them when they decide to take action.


Read more: Counting every woman who has been killed by a man in the last year


The evidence is also less likely to be discovered by their abuser if it is stored at a friend’s house. Record any physical signs of abuse, but also log instances of verbal or emotional abuse you witness, as they will also help in building a case.

Being a victim of domestic abuse is often painfully isolating, and your friend may stay with their abuser because they feel there is no way out or no one to turn to. Be supportive; attend hospital appointments, listen to their problems without judging, go to the police with them when they are ready to do so and help them plan a safe strategy to leave the relationship when they feel ready to do so. If possible, they may need financial support too, if you do not feel comfortable helping them financially, you can help them research if they are entitled to any help from the government.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can find advice and support from Refuge and Women’s Aid.


Images: iStock, Rex Features

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