Helping Abused Women

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How You can Identify and Help Women at Risk of Abuse

Are you concerned about someone you think is being abused, but don’t know what to do? This information describes the warning signs and the steps you can take to help.

Warning Signs of Abuse

You may suspect abuse is happening to someone you know, such as a neighbour, friend or family member, but do not know what to do or how to talk about it. You may worry about making the situation worse, or be concerned about what to do. By understanding the warning signs and risk factors of abuse, you can help.

If you recognize some of these warning signs, it may be time to take action:

  • Her partner puts her down often
  • her partner does all the talking and dominates the conversation
  • Her partner checks up on her all the time, even at work
  • Her partner convinces her they are victim and acts depressed
  • She feels isolated from other people or her partner tries to keep her away from her friends and family
  • Her partner acts like she is their property
  • Her partner lies to make him/herself look good or exaggerates their good qualities
  • her partner acts like they are the superior and of more value than others in the home
  • She is apologetic and makes excuses for her partner’s behaviour or she becomes aggressive and angry
  • She is nervous talking when her partner is around
  • She seems to be sick more often and misses work
  • She tries to cover up bruises or physical injuries
  • She makes excuses at the last minute about why she can’t meet you or she tries to avoid you on the street
  • She seems sad, lonely, withdrawn and is afraid
  • She uses more drugs or alcohol to cope with her situation

Signs of High Risk

The danger may be greater if:

  • Her partner has access to her and her children
  • Her partner has access to weapons
  • Her partner has a history of abuse with her or others
  • Her partner has threatened to harm or kill her if she leaves He/she says "If I can't have you, no one will."
  • Her partner threatens to harm her children, her pets or her property
  • Her partner has threatened to kill him/herself
  • Her partner has hit her or choked her
  • Her partner is going through major life changes (e.g. job, separation, depression)
  • Her partner is convinced she is seeing someone else
  • Her partner blames her for ruining his/her life life
  • Her partner doesn’t seek support
  • Her partner watches her actions, listens to her telephone conversations, reads her emails, or follows her
  • Her partner has trouble keeping a job
  • Her partner takes drugs or drinks every day
  • Her partner has no respect for the law
  • She has just separated or is planning to leave
  • She fears for her life and for her children’s safety or she cannot see her risk
  • She is in a custody battle, or has children from a previous relationship
  • She is involved in another relationship
  • She has unexplained injuries
  • She has no access to a phone
  • She faces other obstacles (e.g. she does not speak English, is not yet a legal resident of Canada, lives in a remote area)
  • She has no friends or family

Statistics indicate that women who are under 25 years of age, women with a disability, Indigenous women and women living common-law are at higher risk of abuse. (Statistics Canada: Family Violence in Canada. A Statistical Profile 2005)


Ways to Support Her

Here are some of the ways you can help when you recognize the warning signs of abuse:

  • Talk to her about what you see and assure her that you are concerned. Tell her you believe her and that it is not her fault.
  • Encourage her not to confront her partner if she is planning to leave. Her safety must be protected. A safety plan is vital.
  • Offer to provide childcare while she seeks help.
  • Offer your home as a safe haven to her, her children and pets. If she accepts your offer, do not let her partner in.
  • Encourage her to pack a small bag with important items and keep it stored at your home in case she needs it.
  • Know that you or she can call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, your local shelter, or, in an emergency, the police.

If she denies the abuse:

  • Assure her she can talk to you any time.
  • Don’t become angry or frustrated with her decisions. It is important to understand that she may be afraid or not ready to take the next steps.
  • Try to understand why she might be having difficulty getting help. She may feel ashamed.
  • Offer to go with her if she needs additional information or support.
  • If she has children, let her know gently that you are concerned about her and her children’s safety and emotional well-being. She may be more willing to recognize her situation if she recognizes her children may also be in danger.


Overcoming Your Hesitation to Help

  • Here are some concerns you may have about whether you should help:
  • You feel it’s none of your business > It could be a matter of life or death. Violence is everyone’s business
  • You don’t know what to say > Saying you care and are concerned is a good start
  • You might make things worse > Doing nothing could make things worse
  • It’s not serious enough to involve the police > Police are trained to respond and utilize other resources
  • You are afraid the violence will turn to you or your family > Speak to her alone. Let the police know if you receive threats
  • You think she doesn’t really want to leave because she keeps coming back > She may not have had the support she needed
  • You are afraid she will become angry with you > Maybe, but she will know you care
  • You feel that both partners are your friends > One friend is being abused and lives in fear
  • You believe that if she wanted help, she would ask for it > She may be too afraid and ashamed to ask for help
  • You think it is a private matter > It isn’t when someone is being hurt
  • Always keep yourself safe. Don’t get in the middle of an assault. Call the police in an emergency. Everyone can work to prevent violence against women.



The Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY 1-866-863-7868 crisis line for abused women in Ontario. The service is anonymous and confidential and is provided in up to 154 languages.

Helpline staff can support you in helping the abused woman or abusive man. They will discuss the warning signs of abuse you have seen and give you practical advice on ways to help.

For more information about the services of the Assaulted Women’s Helpline visit:

In an emergency, call your local police service.

Most Ontarians feel a personal responsibility for reducing woman abuse. Recognizing it is the first step. Take the warning signs seriously. For further information visit:

December 2019