What to do if someone you know is in an abusive relationship

It can be a difficult step to make for someone who is experiencing family violence to tell someone about it and seek help. There are several ways that you can support a family member or friend who is experiencing family violence.

It is important to remember that family violence is not always obvious and there are some key signs to look out for.

Signs to look out for

  • The person is often put down or humiliated in front of others.
  • The person seems very uncomfortable or afraid around their family member or partner.
  • The person is stopped from seeing their family and friends
  • The person is being forced or pressured to do sexual things.
  • The person is physically hurt or scared of being hurt by their family member or partner.

(above from Office of Women's Policy NSW and ReachOut website)


 Listen, Believe, Support and Don't Blame

As part of its ‘Stop Violence in the Home’ program, the Body Shop has also published a booklet ‘Let’s Air it Out – Break the silence on relationship abuse’. The booklet contains a list of Do’s and Don’t's on how to support someone in an abusive relationship:


  Approach them about the abuse in a sensitive way. For example, I’m worried about you because …

   Believe what they tell you. It will have taken a lot for them to talk to you and trust you.

   Take the abuse seriously. Abuse can be damaging both physically and emotionally, and is very destructive to someone’s self-confidence. Their partner could  be placing them in real physical danger.

   Focus on their safety. Talk to them about their safety and how they could protect themselves.

   Help them to recognise the abuse and understand how it may be affecting them. Recognise and support their strength and courage.

   Help them to understand that the abuse is not their fault and that no one deserves to be abused, no matter what they do.

   Listen to them and help them think about their relationship, whether they want to break up or stay, and how they can protect themselves from any more abuse.

   Offer to help protect them but only if you are not putting your own safety at risk. For example, you could offer to be around when the abuser is there, or give them lifts home, take phone messages from the abuser.

   Encourage them to talk to a counsellor, or talk to a counsellor yourself about what you could do to support them.

   If you feel overwhelmed or frightened yourself, get help. Talk to someone, or ring a support service for support.


  Don’t blame them for the abuse or ask judgemental questions like “what did you do to make them treat you like that? Or “why don’t you just break up with them?” Don’t focus on trying to work out the abuser’s reasons for the abuse. Concentrate on supporting them and on what they can do to protect themselves.

  Try not to be impatient or critical, if they are confused about what to do, or if they say they still love their partner. It’s difficult for anyone to break up a relationship, and especially hard if they are being abused.

(Information from Let's Air it Out: Break the silence on relationship abuse, The Body Shop, Full Voice Issue 9)

For more information about how you can help someone who is experiencing family violence, visit the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria's 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' website.


Get the help you need

If it is an emergency in Australia call 000 for the police or for an ambulance.

Talking to someone can be helpful.

  • You can get support from an adult you trust and together you can work out the best way to improve your situation.
  • This could be a parent, another relative, a teacher, a school counsellor, a friend's parent.
  • It is best not to discuss your own situation in a school class setting; it is better to speak privately with the right person.

You can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 to speak with a counsellor.

There are excellent websites with good practical information

(These ideas are adapted from Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria)

There are more services listed in the Services section of the sidebar of this website.