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Signs of domestic violence

5-minute read

Domestic violence can be difficult to talk about. You might want to support a friend, loved one or child who you think is experiencing domestic violence.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence, also called family violence, happens when someone uses violence to maintain control over someone they are close to. This can involve actions or words that hurt, scare or bully others. It could lead to other mental health problems like suicidal thoughts.

What are the signs of domestic violence?

You might be able to pick up that someone is experiencing domestic violence. Signs include:

  • they have lost their confidence or are unusually quiet
  • they seem afraid of their partner
  • they have stopped seeing their friends or family
  • their partner often criticises them, humiliates them, orders them about or makes all the decisions
  • they often talk about their partner’s jealousy or bad temper
  • they say their partner pressures or forces them into sexual activity
  • they have physical injuries, like bruises, broken bones, sprains, cuts
  • the children seem afraid of the person or are very withdrawn or anxious

A relationship can be considered abusive if:

  • a partner controls how the other spends money, what they wear or what they do
  • a partner regularly accuses the other of flirting or being unfaithful
  • a partner regularly humiliates the other in public
  • a partner threatens, hurts or physically assaults the other
  • a partner prevents the other from seeing family or friends

How do I start the conversation?

Determine how safe it is for you and your friend before you decide how to support them. Get some advice, if you need to. Talk to your friend or relative in a sensitive way, letting them know you are worried. Don’t push the person into talking if they are uncomfortable, but let them know that you’re there if they need to talk.

How can I help an adult?

There is plenty you can do to help. Just being there for someone can make all the difference. It’s important that if someone is talking to you about domestic violence, you listen to what they have to say and take the abuse seriously. You can do the following to help support them:

  • help them to recognise that what is happening is abuse
  • help them to think about what they can do so they and any children stay safe
  • offer practical help like minding children or cooking a meal
  • tell them about domestic violence counselling services
  • keep supporting them after they have left the relationship

How can I help a child?

If you think a child is witnessing domestic violence, you can help by:

  • letting them know it’s not their fault
  • making sure the child knows safe people they can go to for help
  • letting their school or childcare centre know about your concerns
  • calling the family and community services child protection helpline

What help and resources are available?

  • Contact the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732.
  • Visit the Trauma and Grief Network to find resources on domestic and family violence.
  • Visit This Way Up to find online courses to help manage depression and anxiety and stress.
  • Find out more about the Indigenous Wellbeing Course run by MindSpot, designed to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged 18 years and over to learn to manage mild, moderate and severe symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Contact MensLine Australia for professional support around men family and relationship concerns - call 1300 78 99 78 or chat online.
  • Visit ReachOut.Com (online youth website) to find out more about domestic violence of children, how to keep them safe and access the Breathe app to assist with anxiety.
  • Visit Kids Helpline (ages 5-25) to get more information about how to handle family fights and where to get help for children - contact 1800 55 1800 or chat online.
  • Contact Lifeline for information about the effects of domestic and family violence or to find out more about your parent’s rights - call 13 11 14 or chat online.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2018

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