Relationships Violence and Abuse 9 Ways to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 29, 2022 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Adah Chung Fact checked by Adah Chung LinkedIn Adah Chung is a fact checker, writer, researcher, and occupational therapist. Learn about our editorial process Print Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents How to Help Believe Victims Offer Support What Not to Do When to Call the Police If you know or suspect that someone is a victim of domestic violence, you might feel clueless about the best way to help. Don't let a fear of saying the wrong thing prevent you from reaching out. Waiting for the perfect words could keep you from seizing the opportunity to change a life. The world for many domestic abuse victims can be lonely, isolated, and filled with fear. Sometimes reaching out and letting them know that you are there for them can provide tremendous relief. If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. How to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence Use the nine tips that follow to help you support someone in this vulnerable situation. Reasons Why Domestic Abuse Happens Make Time for Them If you decide to reach out to an abuse victim, do so during a time of calm. Getting involved when tempers are flaring can put you in danger. Also, make sure to set aside plenty of time in case the victim decides to open up. If the person decides to disclose years of pent-up fear and frustration, you will not want to end the conversation because you have another commitment. Start a Conversation You can bring up the subject of domestic violence by saying “I’m worried about you because …..” or “I’m concerned about your safety…" or "I have noticed some changes that concern me..." Maybe you've seen the person wearing clothing to cover up bruises or noticed that the person has suddenly become unusually quiet and withdrawn. Both can be signs of abuse. Let the person know that you will be discreet about any information disclosed. Do not try to force the person to open up; let the conversation unfold at a comfortable pace. Take it slow and easy. Just let the person know that you are available and offering a sympathetic ear. Listen Without Judgment If the person does decide to talk, listen to the story without being judgmental, offering advice, or suggesting solutions. Chances are if you actively listen, the person will tell you exactly what they need. Just give the person the full opportunity to talk. You can ask clarifying questions, but mainly just let the person vent their feelings and fears. You may be the first person in which the victim has confided. Learn the Warning Signs Many people try to cover up the abuse for a variety of reasons, and learning the warning signs of domestic abuse can help you help them: Physical Signs: Black eyesBusted lipsRed or purple marks on the neckSprained wristsBruises on the arms Emotional Signs: Low self-esteem Overly apologetic or meek Fearful Changes in sleeping or eating patterns Anxious or on edge Substance abuse Symptoms of depression Loss of interest in once enjoyed activities and hobbies Talking about suicide Behavioral Signs: Becoming withdrawn or distantCanceling appointments or meetings at the last minuteBeing late oftenExcessive privacy concerning their personal lifeIsolating themselves from friends and family If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. Believe Domestic Violence Victims Because domestic violence is more about control than anger, often the victim is the only one who sees the dark side of the perpetrator. Many times, others are shocked to learn that a person they know could commit violence. Consequently, victims often feel that no one would believe them if they told people about the violence. Believe the victim's story and say so. For a victim, finally having someone who knows the truth about their struggles can bring a sense of hope and relief. Offer the victim these assurances: I believe youThis is not your faultYou don't deserve this. How Women of Color Are Impacted by Domestic Violence Validate the Victim's Feelings It's not unusual for victims to express conflicting feelings about their partner and their situation. These feelings can range from: Guilt and angerHope and despairLove and fear If you want to help, it is important that you validate her feelings by letting her know that having these conflicting thoughts is normal. But it is also important that you confirm that violence is not okay, and it isn't normal to live in fear of being physically attacked. Some victims may not realize that their situation is abnormal because they have no other models for relationships and have gradually become accustomed to the cycle of violence. Tell the victim that violence and abuse aren't part of healthy relationships. Without judging, confirm to them that their situation is dangerous, and you are concerned for their safety. Reasons Why Victims Stay It can be hard to understand why someone you care about would seemingly choose to stay in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. Here are a few reasons why it's not easy to part ways.Fear of harm if they leaveThey still love their partner and believe they will changeTheir partner promised to changeA strong belief that marriage is "for better or worse"Thinking the abuse is their faultStaying for the childrenLack of self-confidenceFear of isolation or lonelinessPressure from family, community, or churchLack of means (job, money, transportation) to survive on their own Offer Specific Support for Your Loved One Help the victim find support and resources. Look up telephone numbers for shelters, social services, attorneys, counselors, or support groups. If available, offer brochures or pamphlets about domestic violence. You'll also want to help them get information on any laws regarding protective orders/restraining orders and child custody information. You can search state by state for legal information on WomensLaw.org. If the victim asks you to do something specific and you are willing to do it, don't hesitate to help. If you are unable to, try to find other ways the need can be met. Identify their strengths and assets, and help them build and expand upon them, so they find the motivation to help themselves. The important thing is to let them know that you are there for them, available at any time. Just let them know the best way to reach you if help is needed. If possible, offer to go along for moral support to the police, court, or lawyer’s office. Let the person know they are not alone and help is available. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 for immediate assistance and a referral to nearby counseling services or support groups. Help Form a Safety Plan Help the victim create a safety plan that can be put into action if violence occurs again or if they decide to leave the situation. Just the exercise of making a plan can help them visualize which steps are needed and to prepare psychologically to do so. Because victims who leave their abusive partners are at a greater risk of being killed by their abuser than those who stay, it is extremely important for a victim to have a personalized safety plan before a crisis occurs or before they decide to leave. Help the victim think through each step of the safety plan, weighing the risks and benefits of each option and ways to reduce the risks. Be sure to include the following in the safety plan: A safe place to go in an emergency, or if they decide to leave homeA prepared excuse to leave if they feel threatenedA code word to alert family or friends that help is neededAn "escape bag" with cash, important documents (birth certificates, social security cards, etc.), keys, toiletries, and a change of clothes that can be easily accessed in a crisis situationA list of emergency contacts, including trusted family or friends, local shelters, and domestic abuse hotline How dangerous is the situation? Take the Danger Assessment Quiz to find out. What Not to Do Although there is no right or wrong way to help a victim of domestic violence, you want to avoid doing anything that will make the situation worse. Here are some "don'ts" the experts suggest you avoid: Don't... Bash the abuser. Focus on the behavior, not the personality.Blame the victim. That's what the abuser does.Underestimate the potential danger for the victim and yourself.Promise any help that you can't follow through with.Give conditional support.Do anything that might provoke the abuser.Pressure the victim.Give up. If they are not willing to open up at first, be patient.Do anything to make it more difficult for the victim. When to Call the Police About Domestic Violence If you know that violence is actively occurring, call 9-1-1 immediately. If you hear or see physical abuse taking place, call the police. The police are the most effective way to remove the immediate danger to the victim and their children. There are no situations in which children should be left in a violent situation. Do whatever is necessary to ensure their safety, even if it means going against the wishes of the victim or the wishes of the abuser. In actively violent situations, calling child protective services is not the problem, it's part of the solution. A Word From Verywell Although your natural impulse may be to "rescue" someone you care about from domestic violence, the person being abused needs to make the ultimate decision of whether (and when) to leave and get help. Keeping this in mind will help ensure that you support them no matter their decision and continue to provide them with a loving and safe friendship. 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Rakovec-Felser Z. Domestic violence and abuse in intimate relationship from public health perspective. Health Psychol Res. 2014;2(3):1821. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1821 Eckstein JJ. Reasons for Staying in Intimately Violent Relationships: Comparisons of Men and Women and Messages Communicated to Self and Others. J Fam Viol. 2011;26:21-30. doi:10.1007/s10896-010-9338-0 Campbell JC, Webster D, Koziol-McLain J, et al. Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study. Am J Public Health. 2003;93(7):1089-1097. doi:10.2105/ajph.93.7.1089 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Relationships Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.