How to talk with someone who may be experiencing family violence

Aroha and patience matters. You’re giving them the chance to open up.

Find the right time and a safe place to talk

Find a time and place that’s appropriate and without distractions – where you’re alone and the person you’re worried about feels safe.

Make sure you’re prepared for what could be a difficult conversation. If you don’t feel ready or prepared, do it another time.

Respect the person if they change the arrangement. They may not feel ready to talk. Or they may be keeping themselves safe.

 Their partner may be watching them closely and may stop them from meeting friends or family. There’s also a risk that their partner may punish them if they think the person is seeking help. These conversations are important and it’s worth thinking about the risks the person may face when talking with others about their safety.

Ask if they’re okay — show that you’re worried about them.

Be non-judgemental 

Think about how you want to make the other person feel with your body language and tone. You need to be calm rather than angry or confrontational. Don’t stage a talk as  an ‘intervention’.

Talk about care, kindness, support, empathy.

Close up of two people sitting on a couch and clasping hands.

Tell them what you’ve noticed

Stick to the facts and don’t assume anything – talk about what you’ve noticed and why you’re concerned, rather than what you feel or think. Telling someone that they’re experiencing family violence is too direct and makes too many assumptions about their experiences. It may put them off talking to you.

Maybe you’ve noticed something, but there is someone else who is better suited to having the conversation.

Instead, focus on the specific things that you’ve noticed and let them know there are people who care about them and their safety.

It is up to them to decide

If someone is experiencing family violence, they need to be able to make their own decisions about getting help, and to get help at their own pace.

If the person you’re worried about doesn’t want to talk, don’t try to force them. Similarly, if they don’t respond in the way you expect, don’t tell them they’re wrong or force your views on them.

Someone who’s experiencing family violence may react badly to you trying to help. They may be scared, and their partner may be controlling them. It doesn’t mean you are wrong for offering help, but you should not force your help on them when they are not ready.

Listen to what they need

If the person you’ve approached does want to talk, listen and support them to make decisions in their own time.

Learn more about what you can do to support someone experiencing family violence

Keep your offer to talk open-ended

Let them know that they can talk to you when they feel ready, and that other support is available if they need it.

Check in with them again if you keep noticing things that make you concerned.  Make sure they know you’re there for them when they’re ready to talk.

Keep yourselves safe if you keep talking

Make sure the abuser cannot find out about you and the person staying in touch, and any help you offer. For example, consider using code words and phrases — ‘Getting milk from the supermarket’ could mean ‘Call the police’. Meet in places where they are allowed, which may be public.

Learn more about practical steps to safety


Three things you could say if someone tells you about family violence

Someone may tell you that they’re experiencing family violence. A lot of people who seek help tell friends and family rather than professionals.

You’ll probably wonder what to say. Here are three things to consider. Only say them if you’re comfortable.

‘I believe what you’re saying.’

‘You are loved and cared for and should feel safe.’

And if you’re ready to take action you can say, ‘How can I help you? I am here for you.’