Helping Someone You Know

With domestic abuse affecting at least 1 in 4 women in Northern Ireland, there is a chance that one day someone you know will experience some form of abuse from a partner. Whilst we understand that this is either difficult or not very pleasant to think about, it is unfortunately reality. As part of our vision to eliminate domestic abuse from our society we strive to educate the general public on the many types of abuse, what they might look like in a friend, family member or colleague, and what can be done to help. 

Domestic abuse is underpinned by control; perpetrators seek to control their victims often by isolating them from friends and family, making them feel shameful or that the abuse is their fault, or making them fear the consequences of what might happen if they disclose the abuse to someone. Because of this, victims often find it incredibly difficult to talk about what is happening, either because they are scared, ashamed or perhaps don’t recognise that what their partner is doing is abusive. 

However, if you are concerned about a friend, family member or colleague, there are some basic steps you can take to provide them with support. The first thing to remember is that they may not want to talk about it with you, and this is okay. You must never pressure anyone to discuss something they don’t want to, even if you think it’s best that you know. If they are experiencing abuse, it is likely that their emotional wellbeing is already suffering, so it would be unhelpful to put more pressure on them by insisting they talk to you. If you approach the topic and are met with anger, upset or defensiveness, the best thing you can do is reassure them that you are here for them. You could say something like “It’s okay that you don’t want to have this conversation, but I want you to know that I am here to support you if or when you do want to talk”. You could also suggest that they seek support from a service such as Women’s Aid or talk to someone at the Domestic & Sexual Abuse Helpline. 

If someone you know actually discloses to you that they are experiencing abuse, it’s really important that you respond in a way that makes them feel safe and supported. Below we have a list of dos and don’ts to bear in mind: 


  • Listen carefully and genuinely to what they are saying 
  • Reassure them that you believe them and that they are not alone 
  • Reassure them that they do not deserve what has happened and that it is not, nor will it ever be, their fault 
  • Acknowledge that their situation is difficult and scary 
  • Encourage them to express their feelings if they want to 
  • Allow them to make their own decisions about reporting incidents or crimes to the Police as well as seeking medical help (unless they need urgent medical care) 
  • Offer them the use of your phone/homes address if they decide to contact support services, as well as offering to look after an emergency bag for them at your home 
  • Suggest contacting a support service such as Women’s Aid for confidential advice 


  • Blame them for what has happened or make them feel guilty for not telling you sooner 
  • Pressure them to talk about things they don’t want to 
  • Play ‘devil’s advocate’ or try to justify or downplay the perpetrator’s behaviour 
  • Make any decisions or take actions on their behalf, such as phoning the police or a solicitor 
  • Contact the perpetrator – you could make things difficult if they are still together 
  • Urge them to leave their partner – they may not be ready or able to do this 

It is so vital to react in a way that makes your friend, family member or colleague feel as safe as possible. It is also very important that you look after yourself whilst supporting them through such a difficult time. Make sure that you seek help too if you need it, from other friends, family members or professional services. 

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