Friends and Family

How to Help Someone Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

Helping someone who is experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) can be a difficult and sensitive matter, but it is important to know that there are ways to help. 

Insights from Victims/Survivors

The Learning Network and the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations have worked with victims/survivors to share their advice to family and friends of those who are experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). Download the "Stay with Them" resource.

How You Can Identify and Help People at Risk of Intimate Partner Violence

Are you concerned about someone you think is experiencing intimate partner violence, but uncertain about what to do? Experts have identified warning signs that someone is acting abusively. Other warning signs relate to how a survivor might be feeling or acting. If you recognize some of these warning signs, it may be time to take action. 

Warning Signs of Intimate Partner Violence

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 themselves 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
  • They use firearms to threaten or intimidate their partner; for example, playing with a gun during an argument
  • They threaten to harm pets and/or farm animals if their partner doesn't do what they want

Warning signs that someone is experiencing abuse:

  • They are apologetic and make excuses for their partner’s behaviour or they become defensive 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 or other friends or family members
  • They seem sad, lonely, withdrawn and afraid

Signs of High Risk in Situations of Intimate Partner Violence

Again, experts have identified conditions and situations that indicate a situation is becoming more dangerous. If someone you know is experiencing abuse and you recognize some of these signs of high risk, we encourage you to reach out for support.

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/farm animals or destroy their property

  • Their partner has threatened to kill themselves

  • Their partner has choked them

  • Their 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

Some of the signs of high risk relate to a victim/survivor’s vulnerability. The risk of being seriously harmed or even killed is greater if:

  • They have just separated or are planning to leave

  • They fear for their life and for their children’s safety

  • They cannot see their risk
  • They are in a dispute over arrangements for their children, or they have children from a previous relationship

  • They are involved in another relationship

  • They have no access to a phone or cellular service is unreliable

  • They live in an isolated location with no access to transportation 
  • They face other obstacles (e.g., do not speak English, are not yet a legal resident of Canada)

  • 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, women living in isolated locations and trans people are at higher risk of intimate partner violence. 

Supporting victims/survivors of intimate partner violence

You don’t have to be a professional to offer valuable support to a victim/survivor of intimate partner violence. It’s not your responsibility to rescue them or to make them leave. The most important thing that you can do for a victim/survivor is to help them be less isolated. Small acts over time can have a big impact.

Tips for talking to a victim/survivor of intimate partner violence

Here are some ways you can help a victim/survivor when you recognize the warning signs of intimate partner violence: 

  • Talk to the person you are concerned about. Tell them what you see and tell them that you care about them. 
  • Never speculate or tell a victim/survivor what you think happened. Stick to what you know for sure.

  • If they disclose intimate partner 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. 

  • Encourage them to make a communications plan with you so you know they are okay (e.g., they will call every day at a certain time and, if they don't, you will call the police)
  • Offer to provide childcare and/or animal care while they seek help.

  • Encourage them to pack a small bag with important items and keep it stored at your home in case they need it.

  • Think about whether you can offer your home as a safe haven to the survivor, their children and/or pets. If they accept your offer, do not let their partner or ex-partner in. Develop a safety plan for yourself and anyone else in the family as well as the survivor.

  • Share information about supportive resources. You can start with the Where Can I Go For Help? section. 

The person you are concerned about may deny the abuse. This is very common. Don’t judge them for not being able to talk about their experiences yet. They may be afraid or not ready to take the next steps. Many victims/survivors feel ashamed. Be patient and look for opportunities to have another conversation.

  • Assure them that they can talk to you any time.

  • Don’t become angry or frustrated with their decisions.

  • Try to understand why they might be having difficulty getting help.

  • Offer to go with the survivor if they need additional information or support.

  • If they have children, let the person you are concerned about know that you are worried about their safety 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.

Safety Planning

Safety planning is a top priority, whether a victim/survivor chooses to remain in the home or leave. Making a safety plan involves identifying actions to increase the safety of the victim/survivor and their children, if they have any. It is always best to get help from a professional to develop a safety plan. A good place to start is the local shelter. It’s not necessary to live at the shelter to get help with a safety plan. You can find a shelter near you on the Sheltersafe website.

Here are some suggestions that you can share with the person you are concerned about. Take one action at a time. Start with the one that is easiest and safest.

Increasing safety while living with an abuser:

  • Suggest that the victim/survivor think about their partner’s past use and level of force. This will help to predict what type of danger the survivor and their children are facing and when it might be safest to leave if that is what they choose to do.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor tell their children that abuse is never right, even when someone they love is being abusive. Tell them the abuse isn’t their fault and that they did not cause it. Teach them it is important to keep safe when there is abuse.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor plan where to go in an emergency and that they teach their children how to get help. Tell the children not to get between their parents if there is violence. Plan a code word to signal they should get help or leave. 
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor not to run to a place where the children are, as the partner may hurt them as well.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor plan to get out of their home safely and practice it with the children. 
  • If the survivor lives in an isolated location, encourage them to find somewhere outside they can get to quickly if they need to hide from their partner. They can tell their children about it and make sure they know not to tell the abuser about it.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor ask neighbours, friends and family to call the police if they hear sounds of abuse and to look after the children in an emergency.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor move to a space where they can get outside easily if an argument is developing.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor avoid rooms where there is access to potential weapons (e.g. kitchen, workshop, bathroom).
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor protect their face with their arms around each side of their head, with fingers locked together if they are being hurt. Explain that they should not wear anything that the partner can grab, such as scarves or long jewelry or hair in a ponytail.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor parks their car by backing it into the driveway and keep it fuelled
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor hide their keys, cell phone and some money near an escape route.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor have a list of phone numbers to call for help and that they call the police if it is an emergency.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor make sure all weapons and ammunition are hidden or removed from their home, if it is safe for them to do so. 
  • Let the victim/survivor know that the local shelter or police can provide the survivor with a panic button/cell phone.

Getting ready to leave

Here are some suggestions if a victim/survivor is planning to leave: 

  • Suggest that the victim/survivor contact the police or a local women’s shelter and tell that they intend to leave an abusive situation and that they need support in safety planning. If they contact the police, advise them to ask for an officer who specializes in domestic abuse situations (information shared with the police may result in charges being laid against the abuser).
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened if they are injured and ask them to document the visit. 
  • Let the victim/survivor know that the Law Society Referral Service can provide the name of a lawyer who practices family law and will provide a free initial consultation of up to 30 minutes. They can also call 416-947-5255 or toll free 1-855-947-5255.
  • If the victim/survivor is injured, advise them to go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened. Ask the medical professionals to document the visit.
  • Suggest that, if it is safe for them to do so, the victim/survivor gather important documents: identification, bank cards, financial papers related to family assets, last Canada Income Tax Return, keys, medication, pictures of the abuser and the children, passports, health cards, personal address/telephone book, cell phone, and legal documents (e.g. immigration papers, house deed/lease, restraining orders/peace bonds).
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor make copies of these documents and leave them with someone they trust if they can't keep these things stored at home for fear their partner will find them. The local women’s shelter will also keep copies of important documents.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor consult a lawyer. Advise them to keep any evidence of physical abuse (such as photos) and to keep a journal of all violent incidents, noting dates, events, threats and any witnesses.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor contact the Like's Place ( free virtual legal clinic for women leaving relationships in which they have been abused. She can make an appointment by calling 905-728-0978 or 866-515-3116 x235.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor put together pictures, jewelry and objects of sentimental value, as well as toys and comfort items for the children.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor arrange with someone to care for their pets/farm animals temporarily until they get settled. A shelter or veterinary clinic may help with this.

Leaving an abusive partner

Here are some suggestions to help a victim/survivor stay safe as they are leaving:

  • Suggest that the victim/survivor leave when the abuser is away from the house.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor request a police escort. Police will often provide an escort without laying any charges unless the abusive partner or ex-partner breaks the law in the presence of police.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor ask a friend, neighbours, or family member to accompany them when they leave if they do not want to involve police. Ask them to be ready to call the police should violence erupt. 
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor contact a local women’s shelter. It may be a safer temporary spot than going to a place the partner knows about. Find the local shelter on the Sheltersafe website.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor ask the local women's shelter to help find a safe temporary place if they are a man or do not identify as a woman 
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor not tell their partner they are leaving.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor leave quickly.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor have a back-up plan if their partner finds out where they are going

After separating:

  • Suggest that the victim/survivor consider applying for a restraining order or peace bond that may help to keep the partner away from them and their children.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor apply for a restraining order by going to the family court in the municipality where the victim/survivor or the other party lives. If the application involves parenting arrangements, they can start their case in the municipality where the children live. 
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor get online information and guidance to apply for a restraining order.
  • Let the survivor know they can go to the criminal service counter of the local provincial courthouse to apply for a Peace Bond.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor get online information and guidance to apply for a Peace Bond. 
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor keep the restraining order or peace bond with them at all times.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor provide police with a copy of any legal orders they have.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor consult a lawyer or legal aid clinic about actions to protect themselves or their children.
  • If the victim/survivor has a family lawyer, advise them to let the lawyer know if there are any Criminal Court proceedings.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor consider changing any accounts (i.e., utilities, cell phone, bank, etc.) that you share with their ex-partner.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor obtain an unlisted telephone number, get caller ID and block their number when calling out.
  • Advise the victim/survivor to make sure their children’s school or day care centre is aware that they have left their partner and that they have copies of all relevant documents.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor carry a photo of the abuser and their children.
  • Offer to look after the victim/survivor's children in an emergency or suggest that the survivor ask someone else to look after the children in an emergency.
  • Advise the victim/survivor to take extra precautions at work, at home and in the community and to consider telling their supervisor at work about their situation.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor think about places and patterns that their ex-partner will know about and try to change them. For example, they could use a different grocery store or place of worship, take a different route to work and if possible, change work hours.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor ask a neighbour, friend or family member to accompany them if they feel unsafe walking alone.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor not return to the home they shared with the abuser unless accompanied by the police and to never confront the abuser.
  • If the victim/survivor hasn’t already involved the police and they want to now, suggest they visit the closest police station and ask to speak to an officer who specializes in domestic abuse cases.
  • Suggest that the victim/survivor remember that a shelter can help with ongoing safety planning, even if they do not stay there. Find a local shelter on the Sheltersafe website

Overcoming your hesitation to help

It’s normal to have hesitations about offering help when you know or suspect that someone is experiencing abuse. We have all grown up with the idea that intimate partner violence is a private matter. But we know isn’t true. We all have a role to play in ending intimate partner violence. Here are some things to consider.

Points of Concern

Points to Consider

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 this violence will turn to you or your family

Let the police know if you receive threats

You are afraid the potential perpetrator will become angry with you

It's normal to feel uncomfortable or afraid. Don't confront the potential perpetrator if you are worried about your safety

You feel that both partners are your friends

One friend is being abused and lives in fear

You believe that if the person using abusive behaviour wanted help or wished to change their behaviour, they would ask for help

They may be too ashamed to ask for help

You think it is a private matter

It isn’t when someone is being hurt

Finding Help

There are a variety of places where you can reach out to for support and information. Many services that directly support survivors will also assist neighbours, friends or family members. Many of these services will also give you information about resources close to you in your own community.

Crisis & Support Lines

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

Tel: 1-866-863-0511

TTY: 1-866-863-7868

The Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres 24/7 navigation line helps men, women, trans and non-binary people help in finding and navigating services.

Tel: 1-855-628-7238

Trans Lifeline is a peer support phone service run by trans people for our trans and questioning peers. Call if you need someone trans to talk to, even if you’re not in crisis or if you’re not sure you’re trans. The line is 24/7, but when it’s busy it can take a little longer to get connected. Please try calling again.

Tel: 1-877-330-6366

Talk4Healing offers 24/7 help, support and resources for Indigenous women, by Indigenous women, all across Ontario. Services are offered in Ojibway, Oji-Cree and Cree

Tel or Text: 1-855-554-HEAL

Nisa Helpline is a peer-to-peer counselling helpline available to Muslim women of all ages. It operates Monday to Friday from 10:00am to 10:00pm EST

Tel: 1-888-315-NISA (6472)

The Seniors Safety Line is the only 24-hour crisis and support line for seniors in Ontario who have experienced any type of abuse or neglect. Callers receive emotional support, safety planning, information and referrals in over 200 languages. The Seniors Safety Line (SSL) is a "senior friendly" service with a live counsellor available to help navigate difficult systems, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Tel: 1-866-299-1011

Fem’aide offers French-speaking women who have experienced gender-based violence, support, information and referral to appropriate front-line services within their communities, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tel: 1-877-femaide (336-2433) TTY: 1-866-860-7082


Shelter Safe is an online resource for women and their children seeking safety from violence and abuse. A clickable map serves as a quick resource to connect women with the nearest shelter that can offer safety, hope, and support.

Mulberry Finder Tool: Safety Starts Here is a tool to assist you in finding services that offer a safer place to stay for survivors of violence/abuse and their children.

The Assaulted Women’s Helpline provides a safe space, free of judgment anytime, day or night, to support, listen and guide women who have experienced any type of abuse anywhere in Ontario.

The Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres website can help you to find treatment centres across Ontario dedicated to providing comprehensive, trauma-specific care and treatment to victims/survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

Trans Lifeline provides trans peer support for our community that’s been divested from police since day one. We’re run by and for trans people.

Talk4Healing offers 24/7 help, support and resources for Indigenous women, by Indigenous women, all across Ontario. They offer a live chat option as well. Chat with Talk4Healing

Nisa Helpline champions the well-being of Muslim women in North America and empowers them with the tools necessary to lead self-sufficient and dignified lives.

Fem’aide offers French-speaking women who have experienced gender-based violence, support, information and referral to appropriate front-line services within their communities, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Talking to people who use abusive behaviour

It is difficult to see someone you care about hurt others. Are you concerned with someone you think is being abusive to their partner or ex-partner, but dont' know what to do? When friends and family remain silent or excuse violence, the abusive person is encouraged to continue the violence. Ultimately, the abuser is the only person who can decide to change. However, as a friend or family member, you can encourage and support change. Always keep yourself safe. Don't get in the middle of an assault. Call the police in an emergency. 


Tips for a safe, respectful and supportive conversation:

  • Choose the right time and place to have a full discussion. You should be in a place you can easily leave if you need to. The abuser should not have the children with him or be drinking or using other substances. 
  • Never tell someone using abusive behaviour anything their partner has told you.
  • Approach the person who you think might be using abusive behaviour when they are calm.
  • Be clear and direct about what you have seen. 
  • Educate the person using abusive behaviour about the different types of violence and help them to realize the consequences of their behaviour. 
  • Help the person using abusive behavior to understand that anger is an acceptable emotion but hurting someone is not okay. 
  • Tell the person using abusive behaviour that their behaviour is their responsibility. Avoid making judgemental comments. Criticize the behaviour, not the person. 
  • Acknowledge the strengths of the person using abusive behaviour. Humiliating them or putting them down will only reinforce the insecurity that is often at the root of abusive behaviour. 
  • Don't validate any attempts to blame others for the abusive behaviour.
  • Inform the person that their behaviour needs to stop.
  • Tell the person using abusive behaviour that you are concerned for the safety of their partner and children.
  • Never argue with someone using abusive behaviour about their abusive actions. Recognize that confrontational, argumentative approaches may make the situation worse and put someone who is experiencing intimate partner violence at higher risk.
  • Encourage the person using abusive behaviour to seek help. Let them know that change is possible. 

If the person denies the abuse:

  • People who use abusive behaviour will often minimize the impact of their actions and deny that they have done anything wrong. They may state that the situation isn't that bad or that they haven't done anything wrong, or they may blame the victim. This type of behaviour deflects their own responsibility for their actions. 
  • Keep your conversation focused on your concerns for their family’s safety and well-being and reiterate that abuse is never an answer.
  • Keep the lines of communication open and look for opportunities to help the person find support to change their behaviour.


Where can I find help for someone using abusive behaviour? 

Partner Assault Response (PAR) programs, a component of Ontario’s Domestic Violence Court program, are specialized group educational/counselling services offered by community-based agencies to people who have assaulted their partners. Some offenders are ordered to attend the PAR program by the court. PAR programs aim to enhance victim safety and hold offenders accountable for their behaviour.

Read about Ontario's Partner Assault Response Program here

Talk to an information and referral counsellor or get more information by calling the 24/7 Victim Support Line at 1-888-579-2888, or 416-314-2447 in the GTA, or chat online Monday to Friday from 7am to 9pm Eastern Time. The multilingual line provides services across Ontario, in most languages spoken in the province. 

Ask your City Council representative to bring forward a motion to declare IPV an epidemic with this customizable letter template from Neighbours, Friends, and Families. 

Not sure who your councilor is or how to contact them? Learn how to find your councilor's contact information.