Talking to People who Use Abusive Behaviour

Are you concerned about someone you think is being abusive to their partner or ex-partner, but don’t know what to do? This information describes the warning signs and how you can talk to someone who might be perpetrating domestic violence about their behaviour.

Everyone in the community has a role to play in helping to prevent domestic violence. You can reach out to organizations in your community that support people experiencing domestic violence and those who are perpetrating domestic violence.

Warning signs of domestic violence

You may suspect that a neighbour, friend or family member is experiencing domestic violence, but do not know what to do or how to talk about it. You may worry about making the situation worse. By understanding domestic violence warning signs and risk factors, you can help.

Sometimes people around someone who is abusive overlook the behaviour and only focus on supporting the person experiencing domestic violence. At other times, people may sympathize with the person using abusive behaviour. That may unintentionally escalate the abuse. Talking to those who use abusive behaviour is an important part of preventing domestic violence, but it needs to be done carefully. Abusive behaviour won’t go away on its own. There are services in the community to help domestic violence perpetrators or those who are worried about their behaviour.

How to talk to people who use abusive behaviour

How to talk to people who use abusive behaviour

Here is what you can do when 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. [hyperlink online version to ‘Support for people who want to change their abusive behaviour’
  • 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.

Overcoming Your Hesitation to Help

Here are some concerns you may have about whether you should help:

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

Support for people who want to change their 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.

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: