Did you know that we’ve lost more American women to domestic violence than we have troops to war? That is a terrifying fact. But it’s important, especially during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, to face these facts. If you suspect that a woman you know is a victim of domestic violence, it can be very difficult to know what to do. Often, the victim is not only physically dominated by her partner, but also emotionally and mentally. She can be brainwashed into believing that she deserves the abuse. Or, even if she doesn’t believe that, her partner can convince her that she should forgive him, over and over again. Meanwhile, you worry that asking her if she is being abused could drive her away from you, for fear of getting into more trouble with her partner. It’s such a fragile situation, but it is not beyond help. Here are signs your friend is a victim of domestic abuse, and what you can do.
She goes MIA for days
If a woman is hiding physical evidence of domestic abuse, she might go MIA for days or weeks at a time. At one moment she can be eager to see you and make plans, and the next she may stop responding to calls entirely. If you suspect abuse is at play, do not get angry with your friend for what feels like flaking. When she returns, and calls again, it’s important that she knows her network is still there.
It’s hard to get her alone
Abusive partners are often very possessive and don’t like to let their partners out of their sight. They worry that, if they aren’t around, their partner might tell others about the abuse. Again here, showing you will be there however you can, will help. Don’t abandon your friend because it’s difficult to make plans with her, or because she can only see you during very limited and strange times. Taking the few times she has to offer to be alone with you may be the only way to get her to open up about her situation.
He’s been aggressive with you
It’s hard for domestically abusive partners to conceal their anger issues and aggression outside of the home. If this man has ever been aggressive with you—either by gripping your arm too firmly or using nasty words—it is very possible that abuse is more extreme at home.
She gets nervous if she’s late
If your friend is always watching the clock when you’re together, and become extremely anxious at the thought of arriving home late, there is possible abuse in that home. Abusive partners become paranoid when their victims don’t come home when they say they will, and that paranoia can turn into rage.
She won’t say one word against him
It’s normal for women to get together, and tell humorous stories about their partners—maybe stories that would embarrass their partners. If your friend will never say one word against her partner, and even becomes noticeably uncomfortable when other women start teasing their partners, she may be a victim of abuse.
He’s picked fights with other men
Men who get into physical altercations with other men are likely to be abusive towards their partners. If your friend tells you of such an incident, or you witness it, that can be a natural opening to ask her if any of that aggression has ever made its way to her.
He shows disregard for animals
Physically abusive individuals tend to lack empathy, and so they show total disregard for helpless living things like animals. If you’ve seen your friend’s partner be abusive towards an animal, he is likely abusive to her.
She often cancels at the last minute
Your friend will text you, “Be there in five!” one minute and then suddenly text saying she can’t make it. In abusive relationships, when a fight arises, the victim doesn’t feel safe saying, “We have to continue this fight later—I have plans.” That can make the abuser angrier.
You aren’t allowed at her place
There are a lot of reasons an abuser may not want his victim’s friends at his home, including evidence of abuse around the home, or difficulty controlling his temper. Agree to meet your friend wherever she’s most comfortable meeting. It’s always important she feels her friends aren’t distancing themselves from her—for when she’s ready to open up.
All her blinds are always closed
If, when you do go to your friend’s home, you realize the blinds and curtains are always shut, that can be a sign of abuse. Her partner doesn’t want neighbors looking in and witnessing abuse.
She explains a bruise, before you even asked
Before you even notice a mark on your friend, it’s the first thing she begins explaining when she sees you. She’s self-conscious of people noticing so she tries to get ahead of the issue by telling a story about it before they ask about it.
Her parents were abusive
Unfortunately, children from abusive homes are more likely to be in abusive relationships. If you’re aware of your friend coming from an abusive home, and you notice these other signs, it’s very possible she’s a victim.
She’s almost told you something
There have been a few times your friend has almost confessed something to you, and perhaps looked very stressed or teary-eyed, but then said, “Never mind.” Just make sure she knows she can tell you anything, any time, and you’ll always be discreet.
She lives by his word
Your friend talks about her partner as if he is more of a boss than a partner. She says “He likes this” and “He said we shouldn’t do this.” It almost sounds like she has stopped thinking for herself and is just taking on her partner’s thoughts. Mental control is the first step to physical abuse.
They fight in public often
Couples who fight in public—either by yelling or becoming physical—almost certainly have an abusive home.