How to identify the symptoms of an abusive relationship
*Content Warning* This piece concerns domestic violence and abuse.
It’s the kind of situation most people don’t imagine they will ever find themselves in. To be so afraid of your significant other that you spend cold nights on the street without telling anyone. It can be hard to identify when someone is experiencing domestic violence. The following tips have come from a survivor of domestic abuse who is adamant that no one should go without the help that she needed. These are the kind of things you should look out for if you ever suspect that a friend, family member, neighbour or acquaintance is in an unsafe relationship.
It’s also important to remember that anything can be domestic violence. It doesn’t have to be physical; it can be arguing or manipulation or any combination of the above.
If someone you know ever needs to take legal action against their abuser, they’ll need back up. If you ever notice anything out of the ordinary, don’t dismiss it. It’s important to record when you noticed a bruise or cut as well as what it looked like and where it was located. This may become extremely important in ensuring a survivor receives justice in court. If you have concrete, third party evidence of abuse, you can help substantiate a claim of abuse. This is also important if you hear shouting, arguing or any unusual sounds from your neighbours.
Observe Changes in Behaviour
If their interests change, sense of style, or even their general demeanour, something might be wrong. A healthy relationship doesn’t cause someone to completely abandon their personality and the things they enjoy. Sometimes an abuser can enforce tight constrains on their significant other, including dictating what they should enjoy. Abusive partners can prevent survivors from engaging in activities that they don’t approve of, like listening to a certain type of music or wearing a certain style of clothing. Mention any changes you notice and don’t be afraid to check-in.
Be aware of language
There are a number of assumptions people make when a friend exhibits changing behaviours as the result of domestic violence. For example, when someone falls out of step with a group and is rarely attends social situations, friends often respond by saying, “they’ve changed now they’re in a relationship with X” or “they just spend all their time with X” or even, “they don’t like us anymore”. This language can cause alienation and is the incorrect response to changing behaviour. Be patient with your friends and don’t make assumptions.
Beware of “helpful” institutions
We’ve been conditioned to believe the police will always help us out in times of trouble, but that isn’t always the case. Some police officers can be dismissive or misunderstand domestic violence. This lack of understanding can lead to emergency service officers encouraging survivors to simply talk it out with their abusers and in some cases, returning them to unsafe places. If you’re based in SEQ, survivors recommend reporting to Roma Street Police station as they have historically shown the greatest understanding of domestic violence.
Don’t give up
It can sometimes be difficult to support a friend who is distant or has fallen out of step with your circle of friends. But people in abusive relationships need support from friends more than ever when they begin to withdraw. It’s normal for a survivor to brush off any allegations of domestic abuse but stick with it. Check in with them frequently to see how they’re doing and remind them that you are there if they need support.
There are so many sources of vital information about domestic violence. 1800 RESPECT is a confidential information, counselling and support service which operates nationally, 24 hours a day. You can speak to the same person every time you call, and they can assist you in accessing help.
If you or anyone you know may be experiencing anything discussed in this article, call 1800 RESPECT for confidential support or visit the website at www.1800respect.org.au. The website has an immediate click away feature, so no one will know. If domestic violence is affecting your studies, you can access the Student Assist Service who can help you apply for extensions and special consideration without disclosing your situation.