How You can Identify and Help People at Risk of Domestic Violence

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

Warning Signs of Domestic Violence

You may suspect domestic violence 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 domestic violence warning signs and risk factors, you can help.

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

Warning signs someone is acting abusively:

  • They put their partner down often
  • They do all the talking for their partner and dominate the conversation
  • They check up on their partner all the time, even at work
  • They claim that they themself are the victim, despite treating their partner disrespectfully
  • They isolate their partner from other people and try to keep their partner away from friends and family
  • They act like their partner is their property
  • They lie to make themself look good or exaggerate their good qualities
  • They act like they are superior and of more value than others in the home

Warning signs that someone is experiencing abuse:

  • They are apologetic and makes excuses for their partner’s behaviour or they become aggressive and angry when others bring up their partner’s behaviour
  • They are nervous talking when their partner is around
  • They seem to be sick more often and miss work
  • They try to cover up bruises or physical injuries
  • They make excuses at the last minute about why they can’t meet you
  • They seem sad, lonely, withdrawn and afraid

Signs of High Risk

The danger may be greater if:

  • Their partner has access to their children
  • Their partner has access to weapons
  • Their partner has a history of abuse with them or others
  • Their partner has threatened to harm or kill them if they leave and says things like “If I can’t have you, no one will.”
  • Their partner threatens to harm their children, their pets or their property
  • Their partner has threatened to kill him/herself
  • Their partner has choked them
  • They partner has hit them in the head or done something else that could have led to serious injury or death
  • Their partner is going through major life changes (e.g. job, separation, depression)
  • Their partner is convinced that they are seeing someone else
  • Their partner watches the victim’s actions, listens to their telephone conversations, reads their emails, or follows them
  • Their partner has trouble keeping a job
  • Their partner takes drugs or drinks every day
  • Their partner has no respect for the law
  • They have just separated or are planning to leave
  • They fear for their life and for their children’s safety or they cannot see their risk
  • They are in a custody battle, or they have children from a previous relationship
  • They are involved in another relationship
  • They have no access to a phone
  • They face other obstacles (e.g. do not speak English, are not yet a legal resident of Canada, live in a remote area)
  • They have no friends or family

Research indicates that women who are under 25 years of age, women with a disability, Indigenous women, women living common-law and trans people are at higher risk of domestic violence.

Ways to Support Someone Experiencing Domestic Violence


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

  • Offer to provide childcare while she seeks help.
  • Talk to them about what you see and tell them that you are concerned. If they disclose domestic violence, tell them you believe them and that it is not their fault.
  • Encourage them not to confront their partner if they are planning to leave. Explain that a safety plan is vital.
  • Offer to provide childcare and/or pet care while they seek help.
  • Offer your home as a safe haven to them, their children and/or pets. If they accept your offer, do not let their partner or ex-partner in.
  • Encourage them to pack a small bag with important items and keep it stored at your home in case they need it.
  • Know that you or the person you’re concerned about can call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, your local shelter, the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres 24/7 navigation line or, in an emergency, the police. If the person you are concerned about denies the domestic violence:
  • Assure them that they can talk to you any time.
  • Don’t become angry or frustrated with their decisions. It is important to understand that they may be afraid or not ready to take the next steps.
  • Try to understand why they might be having difficulty getting help. They may feel ashamed.
  • Offer to go with the person you are concerned about if they need additional information or support.
  • If they have children, let the person you are concerned about know gently that you are worried about their and their children’s safety and emotional well-being. They may be more willing to recognize their situation if they recognize that their 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 otherresources
  • You are afraid the violence will turn to you or your family > Speak to the person you are concerned about alone. Let the police know if you receive threats
  • You think they don’t really want to leave because they keep going back > They have likely experienced significant trauma which can make decision-making difficult and may not have had the support they needed
  • You are afraid they will become angry with you > Maybe, but they 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 they wanted help, they would ask for it > They 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 gender-based violence.

If You Need Help

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

Helpline staff can support you in helping the person experiencing domestic violence or the person using abusive behaviour. They will discuss the warning signs of domestic violence 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: www.awhl.org

Men, women, trans and non-binary people can call the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres 24/7 navigation line: 1-NAV-SADV (1-855-628-7238) for help navigating services.

In an emergency, call your local police service.

Most Ontarians feel a personal responsibility for reducing domestic violence. Recognizing it is the first step. Take the warning signs seriously. For further information visit: www.neighboursfriendsandfamilies.ca