When we think about the warning signs of domestic abuse, it’s natural that bruising is the first red flag that would spring to mind. While bruises and marks are among the tell-tale signs of an abusive relationship, there are so many other signs that are not always obvious.
With an estimated 213,000 women and 88,000 men in Ireland experiencing severe abuse by a partner at some point in their lives, domestic abuse is much more common than many of us realise. This is why it’s so important to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible about the signs of abuse, and how we can respond.
Before we run through the tell-tale signs that someone may be suffering in an abusive relationship, we need to define domestic abuse or violence; that is, the use of physical or emotional force or threat of physical force, including sexual violence in close adult relationships, in order to control the victim.
Domestic abuse can be perpetrated by your spouse or intimate partner, an ex-partner, another family member, and/or another person within the home. It is considered a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviours that take place within a relationship, or even after a relationship has come to an end.
Signs that an individual could be experiencing domestic abuse or violence:
- They are anxious to please their partner
- They seem afraid of their partner, and talk about their partner’s temper, possessiveness or jealousy
- They are restricted from seeing family and/or friends
- They have limited access to money or a car
- They appear depressed, anxious or suicidal
- They have physical injuries, and often wear unusual clothing to cover them (e.g. sunglasses indoors, long sleeves in hot weather)
- They are acting submissive
Signs that an individual could be the perpetrator of domestic abuse or violence:
- They are acting excessively jealous of their partner
- They insult or embarrass their partner in public
- They yell at/try to intimidate their partner
What to do next:
For a loved one or friend
Your next move is very important; it’s only natural that you want to help, and you can – but you need to handle this sensitive situation very, very carefully.
The first step is to express concern. Look for a private moment when you can have a word with the individual, and begin by asking them if they are OK. Let them know that you are concerned about them, and assure them that you are there if they ever need support or someone to talk to. The important thing here is not to push them if they don’t feel like opening up.
The next step is to assure them that the abuse they are experiencing is not their fault. Use positive, affirming statements such as: ‘No one deserves to be treated this way’ and ‘You are not to blame’.
While you should most definitely offer your support and an ear to talk to, avoid giving advice. What you can do is encourage them to make their own decisions, and provide them with a list of resources. Check out www.whatwouldyoudo.ie for reference and advice.
For a stranger
The situation can be slightly different if you suspect or witness abuse between strangers. If you have decided that a situation requires an intervention, and you are happy that it is safe to do so, Cosc (The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence) advises that you follow the ‘three D’ formula: Distract, Delegate, and Direct.
The goal here is to prevent the situation from getting worse, or to buy enough time to check in with the potential victim. An example of distraction is to ask for directions. This way, you could potentially distract the person about to commit violence, or get a moment alone to ask the victim if there is a problem.
Do you know a friend of the victim who could help? If so, have a word with them and express your concern. If there is no one nearby who is close to the victim, and you feel the situation doesn’t call for Garda involvement, look for someone who might be in a better position than you to get involved – for example, a bouncer.
This involves approaching either the potential victim or potential abuser, and intervening yourself. Remember that you are putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation, so it’s best to make your actions subtle: use body language to express disapproval, and make your concern known by keeping an eye on the situation. If you choose a direct approach, express your concern with a statement like, ‘I’m concerned about what just happened? Is anything wrong?’