Do you know the telltale signs of domestic violence?

The most recent statistics on domestic violence in Australia are alarming: one in six women and one in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or previous partner.

Behind those numbers are people from all walks of life, and very possibly someone you know. But would you be able to spot the signs?

A hidden problem

Domestic violence can be difficult to detect. Often hidden from the public gaze, it defies a single definition.

One in six women and one in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or previous partner.Credit:Getty

“Domestic violence can be a complex pattern of increasingly frequent and harmful physical, sexual, psychological and other abusive behaviours used to control the other person,” says clinical psychologist Dr Sally Bradford.

She adds: “Relationships almost never start out abusive. It’s important to remember that love and intimacy precede the abuse, which can make it difficult to break away.”

Domestic violence can also be confusing for those experiencing its seesaw patterns, says Dr Bradford.

“People who use violence effectively weave together intimacy and abuse to control their partners. Abusive relationships are not violent all the time. There are periods when a person is reminded why they fell in love with their partner.”

Key warning signs

Someone experiencing domestic violence might express a variety of shifting emotions about their relationship from day to day.

According to Dr Bradford, there are telltale signs that all is not well. Signs to look for may include: they seem afraid of their partner or always very anxious to please him or her; they have stopped seeing friends or family; their partner often orders them about; they often talk about their partner’s “jealousy”, “bad temper” or “possessiveness”.

These people may also have become anxious or depressed, have lost their confidence, or seem unusually quiet; they have unexplained physical injuries; they are reluctant to leave the children with the person who is using violence; children seem afraid of that person, have behaviour problems, or are very withdrawn or anxious.

Some key signs to look for include anxiety and/or depression, as well as unexplained physical injuries. Credit:Getty

Domestic violence red flags

Controlling, restrictive behaviour is always a red flag, according to Dr Bradford. “These behaviours are typical of the jealousy, possessiveness, put-downs, threats and violence that occur in domestic violence and abusive relationships,” she says.

Abuse might be present when someone’s partner controls their finances, what they wear or eat; humiliates them in front of other people; monitors what they’re doing, including reading personal emails and text messages; discourages or prevents them from seeing friends and family, or threatens to hurt them, their children or pets.

Other red flags include a partner who: physically assaults them (hitting, biting, slapping, kicking, pushing); threatens to use a weapon against them; constantly criticises their intelligence, mental health and appearance and compares them with other people or prevents them from practicing their religion.

Digging deeper

If you’re concerned about someone’s wellbeing, be sure to approach the subject sensitively and without judgment.

Don't push for conversations if your friend is reluctant, but let them know you’re there if they need to talk.

Be sure to approach conversations about domestic violence sensitively and without judgment. Credit:Getty

Whatever you say needs to be true for you and the person you’re seeking to help, says Dr Bradford. For example, some useful questions may include: “What can I do to help you?”, “What do you think you should do?” or “What are you afraid of if you leave/stay?”

As a friend, family member or even colleague, you can make a life-changing positive difference to someone experiencing domestic violence, according to Dr Bradford.

“People are more likely to talk to someone else about a violent incident than they are to tell police or contact a specialised agency,” she says. “Most speak to a friend, a neighbour or an immediate family member.”

Domestic and Family Violence Response Training (DV-alert) is designed to build capacity in frontline workers within universal services for whom family violence is not a core function of their role, teaching them how to recognise the signs of domestic and family violence, respond with appropriate care and refer effectively to support services.

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