Abuse is a terrible act of cruelty that causes people harm and distress. Those who experience abuse don’t always tell people what is happening; they may fear their abuser finding out and subjecting them to severe repercussions. If you suspect a friend is being abused by a family member, partner, ex-partner or someone else, it may be difficult for you to acknowledge the situation. You may be wondering how to help a friend who is being abused; this guide aims to give you tips on how you can support your friend.
What Are The Signs A Friend Is Being Abused?
Everyone reacts to things in different ways, including those who experience abuse. That being said, there are common signs to look out for that might suggest a friend is being abused:
- Acting differently from how they usually act
Is your friend demonstrating unusual behaviour? Have you noticed a significant difference in their personality? This could be a warning sign your friend is suffering from abuse. Abuse can manifest in different ways; your friend may find it difficult to talk about what they are experiencing. Consequently, the trauma may cause a shift in their body language, behaviour or personality instead.
- Behaving aggressively
Is your friend behaving with increased aggression? This is also a common warning sign of abuse. Your friend may be under a lot of stress due to their situation; their anxiety may manifest in the form of anger, and having a short temper which can cause them to snap easily.
- They are jumpy
This is a warning sign of physical abuse. You might find that loud noises and bangs startle your friend, or cause them severe anxiety. In cases of sexual abuse, survivors may become startled if they sense somebody coming up behind them. These reactions are common trigger responses to trauma.
- They appear withdrawn and avoid participation in social interactions
Demonstrating withdrawal doesn’t always mean your friend is being abused. This is also a symptom of depression and anxiety. However, it is important to keep an eye on your friend and see if any other signs of abuse appear. For example, if your friend is withdrawing because they fear something bad happening, this could be an indicator of abuse.
How to help a friend who is being abused
It can be difficult to understand how to help a friend who is being abused. You might be scared to address the situation for fear of their reaction. However, it is important to remember that reaching out to your friend could save their life. Here are some tips on how to help a friend who is being abused:
- Arrange a time to talk in private
When you reach out to your friend, you must be somewhere safe where the abuser can’t hear or see you. This will allow your friend to open up more about the situation. If possible, have a chat in person rather than over the phone; the abuser may be looking at their phone activity.
- Express your concerns about your friend’s safety
Abusers are extremely manipulative; your friend might not understand that what is happening to them is abuse. Your friend may become defensive when you tell them you are worried for their safety, but by having these conversations your friend might come round to realizing that their situation is dangerous and abusive.
- Be supportive
Creating a non-judgemental space where your friend can confide in you is crucial. Support your friend in what they are saying and understand that they are in a complex situation. Even if your friend expresses love for their abuser, people often stay in abusive situations for many reasons. Continue to be supportive no matter what they decide to do and never blame, shame or guilt your friend.
- Encourage them to talk to a professional
Your friend may not want to report the abuse to the police, so offer them alternative help resources. There are various resources such as Women’s Aid, Men’s Advice Line, Hourglass for older people who experience abuse and an organization called Mind that offers support to people suffering from poor mental health.
If you’re wondering how to help a friend who is being abused, it is not always the best idea to report abuse to the police on behalf of someone else. Your friend might not be ready to disclose what is happening. Additionally, reporting the abuse could endanger your friend. Instead, you can call organizations such as the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247. Domestic abuse advisers offer confidential advice on making informed choices to help your friend.
If you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to your friend, or it is an emergency, you should always call 999.