How to Identify and Report Abuse
It goes without saying that it’s NEVER OK for someone to cause us physical or psychological harm. If we or someone we know are experiencing any form of abuse, we need to speak up and take action.
People who inflict abuse are often struggling themselves. It’s common for abusers to express (and legitimately feel) regret and make countless promises to stop. This pattern is often what prevents people who are being abused from speaking up or taking action.
Caring about someone who’s abusive can make knowing what to do confusing. It’s important to remember that keeping quiet about the abuse doesn’t help anyone, even the person being abusive, as they likely need help to stop. We need to protect ourselves and stop abuse as early as possible in order to reduce irreparable damage. While physical signs of abuse (bruises, marks, sprains, scrapes, pain) can be obvious, the signs of emotional abuse and manipulation are harder to recognize.
People wrongly assume that emotional abuse is less damaging than physical abuse. In reality emotional abuse can be just as damaging, if not more so. Also, research has shown that it’s the emotional damage associated with physical abuse that causes the longest lasting damage.
What to Do if You’re Concerned About Abuse
Here are some key questions to ask ourselves (or to ask someone we think might be getting abused) if we’re concerned about abuse:
- Are you afraid to be around a particular person or speak openly around a particular person?
- Do you want to walk away from a relationship or situation but feel that you can’t do it safely, or do you worry that if you did there would be negative consequences to your life, livelihood, or well-being?
- Do you feel someone has taken control of aspects of your life, or is forcing you into certain behaviors or preventing you from speaking up?
- Have you noticed changes like less interest in activities you once enjoyed, change in sleep patterns (sleeping too little or too much), irritability, or increased drug or alcohol abuse?
Ways to Take Action and Get Help
If you’re concerned that you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, don’t ignore that instinct. Don’t wait for the abuse to escalate and become more violent or even fatal.
The most important thing you can do when it comes to abuse is to find a way to tell someone what’s going on — whether that be a supervisor at work, a family member, a counselor, or a hotline. There are people who can help you. You’re never alone.
Resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline are completely confidential and can provide information and support on safely exiting the situation and getting the support and protection you need.
The trauma associated with abuse can last far beyond the period in one’s life when the abuse happened. It’s never too early or too late to get professional help. You can find options for reaching out for support on our Resources page (link out) or text START to 741741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a confidential conversation anytime.
For digital abuse, it’s important to report it to the platforms and/or to legal authorities. All social media platforms have built-in functions for reporting abuse. If you see something online that you feel is abuse, it’s all of our jobs to be active bystanders when we notice signs of bullying or digital abuse.
Helping Someone You Know
The first step in helping someone who you think is being abused is to have a conversation with them in a safe and private space. Don’t bring any judgments to your discussion and keep the conversation focused on concern and caring. Be aware that many abused individuals are conditioned to deny the abuse or may feel confused about recognizing it because they care about the person abusing them and/or feel like they’ve somehow contributed to it in some way. If they’re not responsive, consider reaching out to other friends or family members to discuss ways you can work together.
If a friend or family member isn’t responsive to your inquiries or denies abuse, but you sense they’re in immediate danger, call 911 or reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.