Support a friend or family member experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault

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What are the signs that someone is experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence?

  • She seems afraid of her partner or is very anxious to please him or her.
  • She has stopped seeing her friends or family.
  • Her partner makes all the decisions such as money and arrangements.
  • She often talks about her partner’s jealousy, bad temper or possessiveness.
  • She has physical injuries (bruises, broken bones, sprains or cuts.
  • She says her partner forces her to do sexual things.
  • She is reluctant to leave her children with her partner.
  • She has become anxious or depressed, has lost her confidence, or is unusually quiet.
  • After she has left the relationship, her partner is constantly calling her, harassing her, following her, coming to her house or waiting outside.

Sexual assault domestic and family violence are about control.

1 in 4 women in Australia has experienced physical or sexual violence by their partner, boyfriend or date.

Keep in mind, your friend may not be ready to call it what it is. She may feel ashamed and afraid.

Tell her that you’re worried about her safety and ask what you can do.

Be patient and stay in touch.

Let her know that you’re there for her.

What's happening Don't Do
Scenario: A family member appears anxious when her partner is around, depressed or teary for no obvious reason. She tells you that her partner has been jealous, angry or rough. Don’t blame her. Asking questions like ‘What did you do for him to treat you like that?’, ‘Why do you put up with it?’, or ‘How can you still be in love with him?’ can make it sound like she is somehow responsible. She is not. Talking about violence and abuse takes courage. Listen without judging. Focus on what you can do to offer support without telling her what to do. Try asking: ‘I’m here for you?’
Scenario: A friend stops seeing family and friends with no obvious reason. When asked, she says that her partner watches her every move. Don’t minimise the behaviour by saying ‘It can’t be that bad’ or ‘Surely he won’t do anything if you go out’. Controlling behaviours are not normal or OK. Controlling behaviour is often part of a pattern of abuse. When your friend talks to you, take it seriously. Try saying: ‘I’m glad you spoke to me. I’m worried about your safety.
Scenario: A colleague tells you she has been sexually assaulted.
  • Don’t make decisions about what she should do without her permission.
  • Don’t ask her a lot of questions and interrupt her as she’s talking about the circumstances surrounding the sexual assault as it can make it seem like you don’t believe what she’s telling you.
  • Don’t give advice, or tell her what you would do.
Listen to what she’s saying and give her time to tell her story in her own words. Tell her that you believe what she’s saying and that you want to help. Try asking: ‘What would you like to do?’ Respect her decisions even if you don’t agree. Acknowledge your own limits. A specialist service can also provide you with some support.

Please help us share the Support a Friend video and spread the word about how to safely support a friend experiencing domestic violence. Find out how here.

This resource was developed for 1800RESPECT in collaboration with:

Information in this resource is based on research and good practice for responding to violence against women.


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