How to spot the signs of domestic violence, and where to turn to for help

It’s a crisis on the rise in Australia, but domestic and family violence is still a taboo topic dangerously under-discussed. This White Ribbon Day, November 25, we reached out to Relationships Australia NSW what signs we should look for and how we can help our loved ones.

Domestic and family violence (DFV) is increasing in Australia. Women, in particular, are reporting feeling afraid, trapped, and isolated at home, and yet, even though we are all more aware, women still find it humiliating to let friends or especially their families know what is happening to them.

People don’t choose to be with an abusive partner, they are choosing a partner who they might value in some ways, who is also abusive. They might perceive him or her to be a good parent, or provider, or they share significant history. Reg flags can begin to appear after the relationship is established which becomes a pattern of controlling or threatening behaviour that develops an ecosystem of fear which erodes confidence and personal power.

Many people try to cover up the abuse for a variety of reasons and being aware of the warning signs of DFV can help you to be helpful to them.

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  • Low self-esteem, loss of confidence.
  • Overly apologetic or meek.
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
  • Anxious or hypervigilant (on edge).
  • Substance misuse (trying to escape the pain).
  • Symptoms of depression.
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies once enjoyed.
  • Talking about suicide/suicide attempts.


  • Becoming withdrawn or distant.
  • Canceling appointments or meetings at the last minute.
  • Excessive privacy concerning their personal life.
  • Isolating themselves from friends and family.
  • Reluctance to plan events together.
  • Persistently being hopeful/making excuses about the relationship which is at odds with some of the other observed signs


  • Facial injuries
  • Red or purple marks on the neck
  • Sprained wrists; bruises on the arms or legs
  • Child injuries

What should I do if I suspect abuse or violence?

Speak up, with kindness. Raising your concerns could be critical to assisting a friend or family member to have an outside perspective on what is happening to them. Be gentle and create a safe space for that person to open up about their situation:

  1. Listen: be available and approachable. Create a safe place to share. Raise concerns from a place of worry. “I really value you, and I don’t like to see your partner speak to/treat you like that….”
  2. Don’t judge. Validate their feelings, especially fears about leaving. Making a decision to leave a relationship is a journey, and can be complicated, especially if children are involved. Hope might remain for a time and talking about it with someone who is supportive and concerned will be part of making good decisions.
  3. Offer resources. Both practical and emotional support.
  4. Talk about a safety plan, including a safe place to stay, a signal for when/if they choose to leave the relationship, what they need now and what might tell them things are less safe.
  5. Believe them. What you hear might be at odds with what you have observed. Remain neutral and supportive.

Getting help

Healing and change can take time. Seeking professional support is crucial in breaking free from violence. If you, or a friend or family member is impacted by domestic and family violence, there are many specialised organisations on hand to help.

Annette Coleman is a practice specialist at Relationships Australia NSW.

1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732

Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63

Link2Home 1800 152 152

Women’s Legal Service 1800 801 501

Relationships Australia 1300 364 277