Domestic Violence: Signs to Watch for and How to Help


Domestic violence is more common than many people think. Rates have skyrocketed, fueled by the stresses and stay-at-home orders of the pandemic that left victims alone with their abusers. Some studies show a nearly 10 percent increase in domestic violence in the U.S. since the pandemic began.

Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse, is when one person asserts power over another and controls many decisions within the relationship. The damage is not all physical. The psychological impact — the lying, belittling, and humiliation victims endure — is extremely debilitating. Domestic violence can also involve sexual and financial abuse to rob victims of control. Although domestic violence affects women more often, men can also be abused. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 10 men has experienced domestic violence.

Why Victims Stay Silent

Victims often feel ashamed of their situation and hide it from others. Their undermined self-worth results in a lack of confidence, so they struggle to make decisions. They might not realize they are being abused, or they might believe the abuse is their fault. They may think they can stop the abuse by doing something “better” or different.

Victims may also stay in an abusive relationship due to a lack of money, housing, or other essential resources. In addition, they might fear for their safety or the safety of their children if they try to escape.

What to Watch For

Bruises or broken bones can sometimes provide clues of abuse. Signs could also be more subtle. Victims may:

  • Seem increasingly distracted or isolated
  • Feel nervous or anxious
  • Frequently check their watch or phone
  • Jump or get anxious when receiving texts or calls
  • Often cancel or postpone plans
  • Feel like they are being watched

How You Can Help

If you suspect someone you know is a victim of violence, talk with them privately. Calmly ask how they are doing and let them know you are concerned. Avoid asking directly about violence, labeling them a victim, or demeaning the abuser.

Instead, let them talk, and listen without judgment. Do not tell the victim to leave immediately. Confronting or leaving an abuser often heightens the level of abuse and requires careful preparation and safety planning. As a result, victims must be ready to do this on their own. Instead, offer validation and support, and be a source of help and information when ready.

These insights were provided by the Domestic Violence Services Network in Concord, which partners with Emerson Hospital to support those who may experience violence. Many frontline Emerson staff are trained to identify victims of violence and provide resources to help.

For immediate help, go to your nearest emergency department or call 911. Other confidential domestic violence resources include:

  • Domestic Violence Services Network Helpline: 1-888-399-6111
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • For additional resources call 211

Listen to the Podcast

Hear from Jacquelin Apsler, executive director of the Domestic Violence Services Network, speak about the warning signs of domestic violence and provide ways you can help suspected victims.

Subscribe to the Health Works Here Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and wherever podcasts can be heard.