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. 

Warning Signs of Intimate Partner Violence

You may suspect intimate partner 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  • They seem sad, lonely, withdrawn and afraid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 in Situations of Intimate Partner Violence

The danger may be greater for a victim/survivor 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/her/them self

  • 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 or they cannot see their risk

  • They are in a custody battle, or they have children from a previous relationship

  • 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.”

  • 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 are not in contact with friends or family

When you are concerned someone is experiencing intimate partner violence

You don’t have to be a professional to offer valuable support to a 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 survivor is to help them be less isolated. Small acts over time can have a big impact. 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 survivor what you think happened. Stick to what you know for sure.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Be patient: recovery from IPV is a long and difficult process, and it may take time for the person to take action or seek help. Be patient and continue to offer support and understanding.

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 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 survivor chooses to remain in the home or leave. Making a safety plan involves identifying actions to increase the safety of the 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 safety planning tips that might be helpful. Take one action at a time. Start with the one that is easiest and safest for the survivor you are trying to help.

Staying safe while living with an abuser:

  • Encourage the survivor to tell you about any changes or escalation in the abuse.
  • Think about the abusive partner’s past use and level of force. This will help you 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.
  • Encourage the survivor to tell their children that abuse is never right, even when someone they love is being abusive. Help the children understand the abuse isn’t their fault or the fault of the survivor. Teach them it is important to keep safe when there is abuse.
  • Encourage the survivor to plan where to go in an emergency and to teach the children how to get help.
  • Make sure the children know not to get between their parents if there is violence. Plan a code word to signal they should get help or leave
  • Tell the survivor not to run to a place where the children are, as the partner may hurt them as well.
  • Ask the survivor to create a plan to get out of their home safely and to practice it with their children.
  • Suggest that the 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.
  • Encourage the survivor to move to a space where they can get outside easily If an argument is developing.
  • Warn the survivor to avoid rooms where there is access to potential weapons (e.g. kitchen, workshop, bathroom).
  • Tell the survivor to 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 survivors park their car by backing it into the driveway and keep it fuelled
  • Suggest that the survivor hide their keys, cell phone and some money near an escape route.
  • Suggest that the survivor have a list of phone numbers to call for help and that they call the police if it is an emergency.
  • Find out if the local shelter or police can provide the survivor with a panic button/cell phone.
  • Suggest that the survivor make sure all weapons and ammunition are hidden or removed from the home.

Getting ready to leave

  • When someone is planning to leave an abusive relationship, here are some suggestions to share:
  • Suggest that the 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).
  • 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. You can also call 416-947-5255 or toll free 1-855-947-5255.
  • If the 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 the 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).
  • If the survivor can’t keep these things stored in their home for fear the abusive partner will find them, ask if they want to make copies and leave them with you or someone else they trust. A local women’s shelter will also keep copies of important documents.
  • Suggest that the 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 survivor put together pictures, jewelry and objects of sentimental value, as well as toys and comfort items for the children.
  • Offer to care for the survivor’s pets temporarily or suggest that they arrange temporary care with someone else. A shelter may help with this.
  • Advise the survivor to clear their phone of the last number they called to avoid the partner utilizing redial.

Leaving an abusive partner

Here are some suggestions to share that may help a survivor stay safe as they are leaving:

  • Suggest that the 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.
  • If the survivor does not want to involve police, accompany them when they are leaving. Ask other friends, neighbours, or family members to also be present as the survivor leaves. Be ready to call the police should violence erupt while they are trying to leave.
  • Suggest that the survivor contact the 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.
  • If the survivor is a man or does not identify as a woman, ask the local women’s shelter to help you find a safe temporary place where they can go.
  • Advise the partner not to tell their partner they are leaving.
  • Advise the survivor to leave quickly.
  • Suggest that the survivor have a back-up plan if their partner finds out where they are going

Here are some actions a survivor can take after they have left the relationship:

  • Suggest that the survivor consider applying for a restraining order or peace bond that may help you keep the partner away from them and their children.
  • To apply for a restraining order, go to the court in the municipality where the survivor or the other party lives. If the application involves parenting arrangements, the process can be started in the municipality where the children live. · Get online information and guidance to apply for a restraining order
  • To apply for a Peace Bond, go to the criminal service counter of your local provincial courthouse. · Get online information and guidance to apply for a peace bond.
  • Advise the survivor to keep the restraining order or peace bond with them at all times.
  • Suggest that the survivor provide police with a copy of any legal orders they have.
  • Suggest that the survivor consult a lawyer or legal aid clinic about actions to protect themselves or their children.
  • If the survivor has a family lawyer, advise them to let the lawyer know if there are any Criminal Court proceedings.
  • Suggest that the survivor consider changing any accounts (i.e., utilities, cell phone, bank, etc.) that you share with their ex-partner.
  • Suggest that the survivor obtain an unlisted telephone number, get caller ID and block their number when calling out.
  • Advise the 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 survivor carry a photo of the abuser and their children.
  • Offer to look after the survivor’s children in an emergency or suggest that the survivor ask someone else to look after the children in an emergency.
  • Advise the 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 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 survivor ask a neighbour, friend or family member to accompany them if they feel unsafe walking alone.
  • Advise the survivor not to return to the home they shared with the abuser unless accompanied by the police and to never confront the abuser.
  • If the 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.
  • Advise the survivor that a shelter can help you 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

Speak to the person using abusive behaviour alone. Let the police know if you receive threats

You are afraid the potential perpetrator will become angry with you

Maybe, but it gives you the chance to become angry with you offer your help

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 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.

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.

How to talk to people who use abusive behaviour

If you recognize warning signs that someone is using abusive behaviour:

  • Choose the right time and place to have a full discussion.
  • Approach the person who you think might be using abusive behaviour when they are calm.
  • Approach someone who is using abusive behaviour with care and concern, not with anger and judgement.
  • Be direct and clear about what you have seen.
  • Tell the person you believe is being abusive that their behaviour is their responsibility. Don’t validate any attempts to blame others for their abusive behaviour.
  • Tell the person using abusive behaviour that you are concerned for the safety of their partner and children.
  • Tell the person using abusive behaviour that you are also concerned for their well-being and that being abusive will take a toll on them as well as their family.
  • Tell the person that their behaviour needs to stop.
  • Tell the person that help is available and provide them with information about Partner Assault Response Programs.
  • Never argue with a perpetrator about their abusive actions. Recognize that confrontational, argumentative approaches may make the situation worse and put someone who is experiencing domestic violence at higher risk.
  • Call the police if the person’s partner, ex-partner and/or children’s safety is in jeopardy.

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 it isn’t that bad or 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. Start with your local Partner Assault Response Program.
  • Always keep yourself safe. Don’t get in the middle of an assault. Call the police in an emergency.

Support for people who want to change their behaviour:

Partner Assault Response (PAR) programs, a component of Ontario’s Domestic Violence Court program, are specialized group educational/couns 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.

In an emergency, call your local police service.

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.