There are many different forms of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual and financial. Some signs of abuse may be evident – bruises and broken bones – while others may be more subtle – the woman changes the subject when asked about her home life.
While on their own, any of the indicators below may not suggest abuse, a combination of these factors may be warning signs of an abusive relationship.
An abused woman may:
* Shy away from talking about her home life
* Be angry, embarrassed or ashamed of her situation
* Express concerns about angering her partner
* Feel isolated and not trust others
* Feel powerless to change the situation
* Be emotionally and financially dependent on her partner
* Have low self-esteem
* Think she is “crazy”
* Have witnessed woman abuse in her family or been abused as a child
* Have unexplained injuries
A woman’s physical safety is her top priority. Support her in developing a safety plan for herself and her children. Encourage her to discuss the family’s safety with a shelter worker. If you believe her children are in danger, talk to her about that as well. For more information, see Abuse And Children. Try to listen to what she is saying. Trust her instinct and judgement — she knows best what safety measures will work for her and her children.
You can offer support to an abused woman in many ways:
* Call a shelter to find out how else you can help. See the Find a Shelter section to locate a shelter near to you.
* Support her in finding a knowledgeable lawyer sensitive to woman abuse issues.
* Help her to find out what services are available for her children and believe in her capacity to protect them.
* Make yourself available to talk to the children as a safe, trusted adult. Allow them to share their thoughts and feelings about the abuse while helping them to understand that the abuse is NOT their fault.
* If the children are old enough and have safe access to the Internet, direct them to the Just for Kids section.
Even with the support of family and friends, there are times when an abused woman needs to seek professional help. Shelter workers are knowledgeable about services and organizations that can help her. You can contact the closest shelter by using the Find a Shelter section to see what is available in the area.
What to Say
It is often difficult to know what to say to an abused woman that will be supportive, positive and helpful. At times, she may actively seek your advice. At other times, she is looking for someone to listen to her. Support her as she learns to trust her own instincts. Be understanding and non-blaming. Let her talk about whatever she needs to talk about, including the parts of the relationship with the abuser that she values. Support her while she explores her options and help her to identify a range of choices. Have compassion for the sadness she may be feeling over the loss of her hopes and dreams for this relationship. Help her identify what other resources and supports she can call on including her family, friends and professionals. Here are some suggested questions and statements that can help you support a woman leaving an abusive situation.
On safety related matters
* Do you think you might be in immediate danger?
* What would make you feel safer?
* What can we do to keep your children safe?
* Shelters are safe places for mothers and children.
On understanding her feelings
* I believe in you and support your decisions.
* It takes a lot of strength to trust someone enough to talk about it.
* If you want me to keep this private, I will.
* I am your friend, no matter what.
* I will help you, and I can’t be there for you all of the time. I don’t want you to worry about me. I have set up my own safety and personal care plan. (Helping someone who is being abused can be emotionally draining. Take on only as much as you can handle. Shelters are a great resource for this.)
On offering help and support
* You seem worried — is there anything I can do to help?
* Where can we go to get some advice? Even if you are not looking for a place to stay, shelters provide information, support and referrals.
* Can I take you to your appointment or take care of your children while you meet with your lawyer?
* Are there other people who can also support you in case I can’t always be there?
* Is there something fun we can do together? (Remember, her whole life is not defined by the abuse, so try to plan other activities to make her feel supported and connected.)