A friend, family member, neighbour, ... is using violence

Is somebody you know and care about being abusive? Do you have an uneasy feeling about a friend's or family member's behaviour towards their partner (and family)?

It is great that your friend/family member has someone in their life who cares about them and wants them to live a violence-free life. However, remember:

  • You are not responsible for your friend’s/family member’s actions and you cannot control what they do.
  • You must stay safe to ensure other’s safety. Do not intervene in dangerous situations. Instead, call the police or other relevant authorities.

If you are from a community that experiences discrimination from police or state authorities and don’t want to call them, you could also try contacting somebody who you know has the respect/power to resolve the situation without causing more harm and will not automatically take the perpetrators side.

How do you recognise abuse?

Every relationship has its conflicts. However, here are some warning signs that can point to domestic violence:

  • He puts her down, does all the talking and dominates the conversation.
  • He checks up on her all the time, even at work.
  • He tries to suggest he is the victim and she is acting irrationally.
  • He tries to keep her away from you and acts as if he owns her.
  • He lies to make himself look good or exaggerates his good qualities.
  • He acts like he is superior and of more value than others in his home.
  • He constantly cheats on her.
  • He makes her doubt her perception of reality.

(source: NFF)

What is my role?

While a good support system is invaluable to stop abusive behaviour, you are not responsible for “solving” the abusive situation or “saving” the person experiencing abuse. 

The graphic above from the Neighbours, Friends and Family Campaign shows your limits, chances and choices as a bystander of domestic abuse.

If you witness disrespectful, threatening and dominating behaviour, you have a right to be worried. Additionally, there are certain contexts, which could make the situation particularly dangerous.

How do I help somebody stop abusive behaviour?

  • Choose the right time and place to have a full discussion.
  • Approach him when he is calm.
  • Be direct and clear about what you have seen.
  • Tell him that his behaviour is his responsibility. Avoid making judgmental comments about him as a person. Don’t validate his attempt to blame others for his behaviour.
  • Inform him that his behaviour needs to stop.
  • Don’t try to force him to change or to seek help. Tell him that you are concerned for the safety of his partner and children.
  • Never argue with him about his abusive actions. Recognize that confrontational, argumentative approaches may make the situation worse and put her at higher risk.
  • Consider approaching his partner using the support information outlined above.
  • Call the police if the woman’s safety is in jeopardy.

Men who are abusive will often minimise the impact and deny that they have done anything wrong. They may state that it isn’t that bad or blame the victim for their actions. This type of behaviour deflects his own responsibility for his actions. If he denies the abuse:

  • Keep your conversation focused on your concerns for his family’s safety and well-being and reiterate that abuse is never an answer.
  • Keep the lines of communication open and look for opportunities to help him find support (see “What are the resources available?”).

(source: NFF)