Every nine seconds, a woman in the U.S. is assaulted or beaten, and nearly 20 people every minute—or more than 10 million people every year—are physically abused by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). One in three women have been victims of some type of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime; 72 percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner, and 94 percent of the victims are female.
The statistics relating to domestic violence are staggering (and we could share pages more), but even so, it’s sometimes hard to imagine yourself or someone close to you in a violent relationship.
Abusive relationships can take many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and even financial abuse, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). And, “domestic violence impacts all women, regardless of age, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, education, etc.,” says Dr. María Garay-Serratos, CEO of Sojourner Center, one of the nation’s largest domestic violence shelters that serves close to 9,000 victims each year in its crisis shelter and transitional living facilities. Violent relationships aren’t just reserved for adults, either. “[Teen] dating violence is widespread with serious long-term and short-term effects,” Dr. Garay says. In fact, she points out that a “2011 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) nationwide survey found that 23 percent of females and 14 percent of males who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.”
Violent relationships are far too common, and if your friends or family are victims, you can help—but first you need to be aware of the signs. Here are some red flags to look for that may indicate your friend is a victim of a dangerous relationship, according to Dr. Garay, as well as the NNEDV and The Allstate Foundation:
- Bruises that seem to be unexplained
- Any sort of fear of your friend’s partner: Does your friend get nervous or anxious if she forgot to check in with her partner? Does she seem to flinch in his presence? There can be many subtle signs of fear.
- Isolation: Is your friend turning down social invites? Does she often miss work, school, or other occasions? Or, does she only go out if her partner joins?
- Your friend wears clothing seemingly designed to cover bruises or scars—Is she wearing long sleeves when it’s 75 degrees outside? Is she wearing sunglasses inside?
- Limited access to money, credit cards, or the car
- Significant changes in personality and mood: Is your friend less outgoing than before? Does she seem depressed or anxious? Does she have low self-esteem, when she used to be confident?
Signs To Look For When You’re With Your Friend and Her Partner
- Hyper vigilance of your friend by her partner: Does her partner seem to be watching her every move and keeping extremely close tabs on her?
- Abusive language
- Lack of eye contact
- Abuser speaking for the abused: Does your friend’s partner answer questions on her behalf, order food for her, or generally jump in when it’s her turn to speak?
- Abuse: Though this may seem obvious, think about potentially abusive language or moves that you might think are just a “one time thing” or in a “joking” manner. They could very well be much more serious than that.
- Abuser keeping the abused physically close: Does your friend’s partner insist on a limited physical distance between the two of them at all times?
- Timidity by the abused: Does your friend seem shyer in her partner’s presence?
- Your friend goes along with everything her partner says and does
Signs To Look For When You’re With Your Friend Without Her Partner
- Excessive texting and calling: Is your friend’s partner checking in constantly? Or, is your friend making a point to call and text him constantly, whether on the sly or out in the open?
- Bruising with explanations that don’t match the type of bruise: Think about your friend’s explanation of any bruises she may have. Does it make sense, physically? Or does something seem off?
- Lack of social engagement: Does your friend seem distant?
- Uncharacteristic defensiveness
- Comments from your friend about her partner’s temper, jealousy, or possessiveness, even if made in an off-hand or joking manner
What To Say To Your Friend If You Suspect She’s In a Violent Relationship
If you suspect your friend may be in an abusive relationship and would like to confront her, meet in a neutral setting. “Ask questions that are open-ended and curious in nature,” says Regina Tate, a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in anger and domestic violence and provides online therapy through Talkspace. Tate suggests questions like, “What is it like for you when you and him disagree?” or “I know that no relationships are great all the time, [but] I am concerned at times about you. Do you need to talk?”
Suggest helpful resources, like support groups, without instilling fear. And, no matter what, be open-minded. “Respect her,” Dr. Garay says. “Tell her that you are there for her. Do not judge her. Do not condemn her. Do not victimize her.”
You can, however, let her know you’re concerned for her safety. The Allstate Foundation suggests using the following phrasing to help facilitate an open conversation:
- “I see what is going on with you and_________ and I want to help.”
- “You don’t deserve to be treated that way. Good husbands and partners don’t say or do those kinds of things.”
- “The way he treats you is wrong. Men should never hit or threaten the women they love.”
- “I’m worried about your safety and am afraid he’ll really hurt you next time.”
- “Promise me that if you need to talk, you’ll come to me.”
If your friend or loved one is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. And if you need or want outside help, you can reach out to any number of domestic violence support groups and shelters, including those mentioned in this article, as well as The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which you can reach via live chat on the website or by calling 1-800-799-7233.
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