This page offers advice on what you should do if you suspect a friend, relative, neighbour or colleague may be in an abusive relationship.

For full information and advice, download our help guide – Domestic Abuse: Friends and Family Help Guide.

The support you provide to someone who is in an abusive relationship can make all the difference in terms of the person’s safety and wellbeing. With your help, the person may think about ending the relationship and recover from the impacts of the abuse they have experienced.

We know it’s not easy supporting someone who is experiencing domestic abuse but you’re not alone. There are a number of Freephone helplines you can contact to talk things through. For more information, visit our help and support pages.

What is domestic abuse?

People often think the term domestic abuse only refers to a person being physically hurt by their partner. The definition in the UK is actually much bigger than this and includes;

  • psychological and emotional abuse
  • physical and sexual abuse
  • harassment
  • control and coercion

Both men and women can be victims of domestic abuse and it happens in same-sex relationships too.

Abuse can continue even when the relationship has ended. The term domestic abuse also covers abuse between adult family members, for example abuse by a grown-up child towards a parent.

How can I tell if a person I know is experiencing abuse?

Each person’s experience in an abusive relationship is different, and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between relationship that is challenging or unhealthy, and a relationship where one person is abusing another.

Below are things that could indicate someone is experiencing domestic abuse:

  • The person has injuries which do not match with the account they give about how they hurt themselves, or they start to wear clothes that cover up more of their body
  • You witness, or hear about, the abuser saying or doing things that belittle the person. For example insulting them, criticising them, making fun of their opinions and beliefs, or undermining the way the person parents their children.
  • The person withdraws, seeing less of you and of other people they know, often cancelling plans and making excuses about not being able to meet up. When you do see that person, they are sometimes quieter than they used to be, and if the abuser is there too, the person may seem nervous or anxious.
  • When you see the person alone, they receive lots of text or calls from the abuser asking them what they are doing, where they are, who they are with and when they will be finished. Your friend, relative, neighbour or colleague may seem embarrassed by these interruptions, but may not feel able to stop answering the calls or the texts.
  • The abuser is making lots of rules that the person has to follow, which can include; who they can see, what they can wear, what they can spend money on and how their home needs to be kept.
  • The person you know seems to give up their own life plans, including their education, their job and their own friendships because the abuser has made it difficult for them to continue doing the things they’d like to.
  • The person asks you to keep things secret from the abuser, for example who they have seen, plans they have made or things they have bought, because they are scared about what will happen if the abuser finds out.

Even if the person you know has ended the relationship with the abuser, it is possible that abuse may continue, especially if the abuser still has the person’s contact details or has access to the person, for example if they have children together.

What can I do to support the person I know?

If you think a friend, relative, neighbour or colleague may be in an abusive relationship, our help guide has detailed advice on the things you can do which can provide emotional and practical support for that person.

The guide also provides information about the ways the situation may impact on you and what you can do to help support your own wellbeing whilst providing help to a friend, relative, neighbour or colleague.

Domestic Abuse: Friends and Family Help Guide – click here to download.

Reporting domestic abuse

Reporting you concerns is important – many abusive behaviours are crimes. Police and other agencies are working together every day to support victims and take action against abusers. Your information could be vital in ensuring they know about the crimes being committed and able to keep that person safe.

Even if it’s something small – it could be nothing, but it might mean everything.

To report concerns, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously, who will pass on your concerns to an appropriate organisation. You don’t have to give any of your personal details and calls are never traced.

Contact independent charity Crimestoppers 24/7 on Freephone 0800 555 111.

You can also contact police directly by calling 101 or make a report online. If someone is in danger or it is an emergency, always call 999.