Help for a friend or loved one

Help for a friend or loved one

It’s not easy to know how to support a friend or loved one who is experiencing domestic violence. But you can make a difference. 


It can be very upsetting to think that someone is hurting a person you care about. Your first instinct may be to protect your friend or loved one, but intervening can be dangerous for both you and her. Of course, this does not mean you should ignore it; there are things you can do to help. If you witness an assault you can call the police on 999.

Learn more about domestic violence here.

Find out more about Refuge and Avon’s joint campaign, 1in4women, which provides information to help people support friends and loved ones through domestic violence. 


It may help to remember that:

  • Domestic violence is a crime
  • Domestic violence is very common. One woman in four experiences domestic violence at some point in her life and an abused woman may live with domestic violence for years before she tells anyone or seeks help
  • Domestic violence is very dangerous. Every week two women are killed by a current or former partner
  • All women have the right to live free from violence and fear
  • The woman is not to blame for the violence; only the abuser is responsible for his actions

What might an abused woman be feeling and experiencing?

  • She may be overwhelmed by fear – a fear of further violence or threats to her children’s safety
  • She often believes that she is to blame and that by changing her behaviour the abuse will stop. Research shows that this is not the case
  • She may experience many conflicting emotions. She may love her partner, but hate the violence. She may live in hope that his good side will reappear
  • She may be dependent upon her partner, emotionally and financially
  • She may feel shame, guilt and embarrassment
  • She may feel resigned and hopeless and find it hard to make decisions about her future

What can you do to support her?

  • Giver her time to open up. You may have to try several times before she will confide in you
  • Try to be direct. Start by saying something like, ‘I’m worried about you because…’ or ‘I’m concerned about your safety…’
  • Do not judge her
  • Believe her – too often people do not believe a woman when she first discloses abuse
  • Reassure her that the abuse is not her fault and that you are there for her
  • Don’t tell her to leave or criticise her for staying. Although you may want her to leave, she has to make that decision in her own time
  • Focus on supporting her and building up her confidence – acknowledge her strengths and remind her that she is coping well with a challenging and stressful situation
  • Abusers often isolate women from friends and family – help her to develop or keep up her outside contacts. This will help boost her self esteem
  • Encourage her to contact a local domestic violence organisation like Refuge or call the Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247
  • Be patient. It can take time for a woman to recognise she is being abused and even longer to make decisions about what to do. Recognising the problem is an important first step

Helping a woman and her children to stay safe

The safety of your friend or loved one – and her children – is paramount. Talk to her about how she can stay safe.

  • Agree a code word so that she can signal when she is in danger and needs you to get help
  • Encourage her to think about her safety more closely and focus on her own needs
  • Find out about local services for her; offer to keep spare sets of keys or important documents, such as passports, benefit books, so that she can access them quickly in an emergency
  • Encourage her to think of ways in which she can increase the safety of her children

Emergency support

Encourage her to call the Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247. Always call 999 in an emergency.


Domestic violence is not a private matter, to be dealt with behind closed doors. Domestic violence is a serious crime. We all have a role to play in ending it.