Supporting friends and family

How you can help someone you care about who is experiencing domestic abuse

For many people, home isn’t a safe place. But we know it isn’t always easy for people to recognise domestic abuse in their relationships, and it can be hard to reach out for help.

If you’re worried that someone you care about is experiencing domestic abuse, you might not know what to say or do. You might be concerned about making the situation worse. Or you might find it difficult to understand why someone doesn’t leave.

Whatever the situation, the guidance and advice on this page is designed to support you and those you care about.


When I was 19, I reached in, together with another family member, to help a friend who suffered physical violence and self-harm in an early relationship, but I didn't feel I deserved the same help when I was living with coercive control and emotional/financial abuse because it 'wasn't physical'. The person I helped then helped me years later to see that it was still domestic abuse, that I could ask for specialist help, that I was at risk.

Sophie*, a domestic abuse survivor


It’s hard to reach out for help from behind closed doors. We need someone outside to reach in.

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What to say – and what not to say

How should you respond when someone you know tells you that they’re experiencing domestic abuse or you see something that’s concerning? It’s really common to feel like you don’t know enough to respond well, or to be worried about saying the wrong thing.

Listen and help break the silence

People who have experienced domestic abuse say that the opportunities to talk, along with practical and emotional support, is really important – particularly from someone they trust. By being there, and listening, you can help someone break the silence about their situation.

Try not to use labels

Many people struggle to identify with the terms “domestic abuse” and “domestic violence” because they don’t feel these labels represent their experiences. This can particularly be the case if they are experiencing coercive control, or psychological, emotion, sexual or financial abuse.

Start conversations gently

You could ask about things you’ve noticed or that you’re worried about. For example “You haven’t been in touch much lately. Is everything ok?” or “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down. Has anyone upset you?” or even “I’m worried about you, you seem scared.”

Be supportive and open

It can be hard not to be critical or offer strong opinions about the relationship or the person behaving abusively, but doing this can prevent someone from opening up. Instead, try to listen with an open mind.

Tell them you’re there for them

When someone speaks out, it’s really important that you let them know that you believe them and that they’re not to blame for the abuse. Explain that you’re concerned and worried about them, and that you want to help.

Don’t put any pressure on them

It’s natural to want to help and if you’re worried about someone, you’ll want to make sure they’re safe. But it’s really important not to pressure the person being abused. Helping someone in an abusive relationship can be a gradual process. This can be hard, but be patient – they need to make their own decisions in their own time.

Don’t confront or provoke the abuser

Don’t do anything to confront or provoke the person who is being abusive – and make sure that you look after yourself and your own safety.



If you need help now

If you, or someone else, is in immediate danger call 999 and ask for the police.

Get help

Safety planning

Deciding to end an abusive relationship can be extremely difficult and dangerous. Ideally, it needs to be done in a planned way, with support in place. It can take time to work out how to do this safely. However, in an emergency situation a decision may need to be made urgently. Having a safety plan in place can help in these situations.

Professionals who work with people in abusive relationships can provide expert support to create safety plans to reduce the risk of harm when leaving the relationship.

Ways you can help

To help with safety planning, try sharing these tips with the person experiencing abuse:

  • Pack an emergency bag and hide it in a safe place
    This should include items like passports, birth certificates, keys to their home or car, medications, some clothes and a few of their children’s toys.
  • Work out a plan for leaving
    In an emergency, it might be difficult to think of everything needed quickly. Make a plan of who to call, where to go and how to get there so you have this information to hand if needed.
  • Agree on a code word
    You can use this as a way to signal to you if they are in danger and need urgent help.

You can also offer other practical support such as contacting support organisations and helplines for them.

Listen: How can you help someone experiencing domestic abuse?

In this podcast, recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Alison Gregory speaks to Rachel Ozanne from SafeLives, and Pioneer-survivor Ursula about supporting friends and family members experiencing domestic abuse.

More help and advice

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It’s hard to reach out for help from behind closed doors. That is why we are asking you to reach in. Find out what you can do to help.
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SafeLives isn't a domestic abuse service. But if you're experiencing domestic abuse or you're worried about a friend or family member, help is available.