Supporting someone else experiencing family violence

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Being a bystander during Covid-19 is critical – we all have a role to play!

Calls to family violence service providers have decreased since stage 3 restrictions for social contact were introduced. This is highly concerning. Family violence service providers believe this may mean people are having difficulty accessing support with perpetrators in the home.

This means as a community we need to remain vigilant. We all have a role in supporting people. This includes supporting someone experiencing family violence and being a bystander when someone is treated with disrespect.


Is someone you know experiencing family violence?


If someone is at risk of family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, being at home may not be the safest place

Family and friends are often the first to know. Signs you may notice during social isolation could include:

  • They tell you they are being harmed or appear fearful.
  • You overhear something when communicating via technology.
  • You overhear something in your community.
  • You see something when people are outside their homes, for example: in the garden, walking, at the supermarket or on balconies. It may be body language or a change in demeanour.
  • Family violence isn’t just physical. It can also include exerting control over someone, or abuse that is verbal, sexual, economic or spiritual.

Supporting someone experiencing family violence


As a result of the isolation measures, people experiencing family violence may feel isolated from you and other friends or family. They may not be able to talk freely, and their communication methods may be monitored (including calls, texts, internet searches etc.) 

You need to consider the persons safety when choosing how to support them:

  • They tell you they are being harmed or appear fearful.
  • You overhear something when communicating via technology.
  • You overhear something in your community.
  • You see something when people are outside their homes, for example: in the garden, walking, at the supermarket or on balconies. It may be body language or a change in demeanour.
  • Family violence isn’t just physical. It can also include exerting control over someone, or abuse that is verbal, sexual, economic or spiritual.

Supporting someone experiencing family violence

As a result of the isolation measures, people experiencing family violence may feel isolated from you and other friends or family. They may not be able to talk freely, and their communication methods may be monitored (including calls, texts, internet searches etc.)

You need to consider the persons safety when choosing how to support them:

  • Support and Encouragement: Being encouraging and supportive may build trust and support someone to make decisions and share their concerns.
  • Maintain contact: maintain contact over the phone if it is safe to do so.
  • Create or maintain routines: establish regular catch up calls. Use your own isolation as the motivation to make it regular.
  • Establish a safe word or signal: if safe to do so, agree on a signal and what action you will need to take if this signal is shown to you (e.g. call 000).
  • Family violence services remain open: If it is safe to do so, let them know that during the pandemic family violence services are open and available for support and advice. This includes support for accommodation, financial support and pets. For more information visit https://www.edvos.org.au/.
  • Storage of information and emergency bag: Hold onto important documents in the event they are needed quickly. Hold onto a bag of essentials such as clothing.
  • Ask: If it is safe to do so, find a way of asking if they are ok. You may like to try something like ‘I notice you don’t seem yourself, is everything ok’. For more tips on having the conversation visit: https://www.dvrcv.org.au/help-advice/guide-for-families-friends-and-neighbours
  • Respect: Leaving a violent or abusive partner can be dangerous. Your friend or family member will know this and will be assessing this risk
  • Call 000 if you believe someone is in immediate danger: Victoria police, including those responsible for enforcing the pandemic, have been trained on family violence and to identify and support at risk families

For professional advice on how to support someone you suspect is experiencing family violence call EDVOS directly on (03) 9259 4200, they can talk to you about the best ways of supporting someone.

Look after yourself

It can be distressing and confusing when you suspect someone is experiencing abuse.

If you are aware someone is experiencing family violence it is normal to feel:

  • Angry – at the perpetrator and the victim-survivor
  • Frustrated – that the situation is continuing
  • Scared – for someone’s safety and possibly your own
  • Out of your depth – like you don’t have the expertise to provide support
  • Pressured – to act

It is important to take care of yourself.

  • Don’t give up on the person experiencing violence or take your frustration out on them. Remind yourself that your support is important and keep communication open where possible.
  • Get some help from the experts. Ring EDVOS, they are specialist family violence providers for the Eastern Metropolitan Region, including Yarra Ranges.
  • Be honest about what you can and can’t do to provide support. You are not responsible for what is happening, and you can’t rescue someone.

For more information visit: https://www.dvrcv.org.au/help-advice/guide-for-families-friends-and-neighbours

What if I hear someone being treated disrespectfully?

Where it is safe to do so, you have an opportunity to call others out when they speak disrespectfully to others.

During the pandemic we may become aware of this in a variety of ways:

  • We overhear or see something when communicating via technology.
  • We overhear or see something when moving about our community.

Disrespect may be shown through a put down, a sexist, racist, ageist or homophobic comment, silencing of someone, or one person exerting control over another.

This behaviour is never ok.

Our Watch recommends the following approach to be a bystander:

  • Show: Actions speak louder than words. Use your body language to roll your eyes, shake your head, use your facial expression. Don’t laugh along.
  • Support: Make sure the person who receives the put down or negative comment feels supported. Ask if they are ok. If someone else challenges the behaviour or comment, make sure you support them.
  • Speak Up: Ask the person to stop, purposefully change the conversation.

Remember that this may not always be appropriate in the pandemic context. The following considerations are needed:

  • The person may experience repercussions (such as violence, threats and arguments) if the perpetrator is challenged.
  • Communication between you may cease, either by the person experiencing the negative behaviour or the perpetrator.
  • Body language may not translate well across technological platforms. It may be misunderstood and may mean your message isn’t communicated.

For more information on being a bystander visit: http://doingnothingdoesharm.org.au/doingnothingdoesharm/home