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What to do to support someone experiencing domestic violence ?

Physical, mental and emotional cruelty is dealt as domestic violence under the IPC. What can you do to help someone who is in a bad marriage? How can you stand by a woman in an abusive relationship? Check out this article to know how can you lend support to a victim of domestic violence


Domestic violence also known as domestic abuse or marital abuse is ugly, and that is putting it rather mildly. It scars a woman for life. It strips her of dignity and self-confidence. Domestic violence is not about physical violence alone. Any cruel behavior, caused by a woman's husband or his family, that causes the woman mental, emotional and psychological trauma is treated as domestic violence, in the eyes of the law.

As public servants, it is our moral responsibility to report cases of domestic abuse. However, most of us shy away from doing so because we do not want to interfere in people's 'personal matters'. It is important to know that domestic violence is not a 'personal matter' between a husband and a wife, nor is a matter confined to a family. Under the Indian Penal Code, domestic abuse is a crime.

What can you do to support a family member or friend experiencing domestic abuse ?

If you come to know that someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you might find yourself in a quandary, not knowing what to do. There are tell-tale signs of abuse that cannot or should not be ignored. Bruises or injuries on the body, a woman breaking down for no reason at all, or visible fear at the mention of the husband's name etc. You can always tell when things are amiss. The woman might choose to confide in you.

Knowing that someone you know is being hurt deliberately by her spouse and/or in-laws can be extremely unsettling. Your immediate instinct might be to want to come to her aid, to help her in any which way you can, but the fear that your intervention could be misinterpreted could hold you back. You might also fear that things could worsen for her if you interfere in their family matters. It is normal to have such thoughts, but that does not mean that you do not step in and do what you can within your power.

People often wonder how they can help a victim of domestic violence ?. There are ways in which you can ensure the woman's safety. If you are a witness to a physical assault contact the police at 100 and report the matter.

Facts about domestic violence

It is important to note some crucial facts about domestic violence.

  • Domestic violence or marital violence or domestic abuse are all crimes under the law and should not be tolerated
  • The Government has set up Special Domestic Violence Courts that deal with dowry cases as well as domestic abuse
  • Domestic violence is one of the most common offenses against women. It usually goes unreported because it happens within the confines of her home. However, it is estimated that one in every four women experiences some kind of domestic abuse, at some point of her life
  • Abused women often endure abuse and violence, within the marriage, for years, before confiding in someone or seeking help
  • Domestic violence is dangerous and horrible and often stems from a need to control and bully
  • Every woman has a right to live her life with dignity. She needs to be respected and loved and reside in her marital home without fear of abuse, cruelty, torture and violence
  • Domestic abuse is not the fault of the woman (as the abuser often has her believe). The abuser is responsible for his conduct. There is no way that his abusive behavior can be explained as rational behavior

What an abused woman feels and experiences ?

  • Victims of domestic abuse are often overcome by fear. They feel threatened and fear for their safety and that of their children. Their fear makes them put up with severe verbal, physical and psychological abuse. They are scared of further violence and of what could happen. They are physical, emotionally and mentally battered and lack confidence. The effect the abuse has on her should not be underestimated
  • She is made to feel that everything is her fault. She begins believing that if she changes herself the abuse would stop. However, this is never the case. Research indicates that an abusive man will find different reasons to keep up the abuse. It feeds his ego and makes him feel powerful
  • An abused woman goes through a conflict of emotions, where she feels love for her spouse, but despises him for the violence. She lives in a constant hope that he will change
  • Most women are financially and emotionally dependent on their husband. If she is a working woman, her finances are controlled by the husband, allowing her no financial independence
  • She goes through a lot of trauma, including feeling of embarrassment, shame and guilt
  • She is incapable of making decisions and is totally under her husband's control

How to help a woman in distress ?

Don't ignore the signs of abuse. Have a talk with her and encourage her to open up. This will not be easy, as she would be embarrassed as well as scared. Give her time and let her know that you are there in case she needs to confide in someone. Let her know that you are willing to extend whatever support is possible from your end.

  • Start a conversation when you are alone and let her know that you know. Do not be too direct as that could shame her. Ask her if everything is alright and that you are concerned about her
  • Do not make the conversation seems as though you are intruding into her private life or judging her
  • Allow her time to trust you and open up to you and when she does, let her talk her heart out. Listen to what she has to say. There will be pieces that seem unbelievable, especially if you know her husband. But, know that she would be so vulnerable at that moment and would not be making things up. She'd be revealing her life to you, be sympathetic
  • She will need your support because she'll be at her weakest, opening up, talking about a well-maintained secret. Assure her that none of it is her fault. And she is the victim here and that you would do all it takes to help her
  • Do not judge her – do not criticize her for not walking out from the abusive relationship. Whether to leave or to stay should be her decision. Do not influence her, let her make own decision about leaving or staying, even if you disagree with it
  • There has been a lot of research carried out on abusive relationship which points out that women in abusive relationships were at most risk from their abusive partner when they choose to separate from them or right after they leave
  • Keep in mind that women in abusive relationships have low self-esteem. They are broken and probably lack the strength and the nerve to leave. They face enormous hurdles that make their decision to leave all the more difficult. Obstacles such as having no support from their birth family or no one willing to take them and their children in or no financial support etc.
  • Provide her the support she needs to build poise, dignity and self-confidence
  • Show confidence in her strengths and remind her repeatedly that she has handled the challenges her stressful situation has thrown at her with great courage
  • A man who abuses his wife doesn't allow her to have friends or maintain healthy relationship with family. He ensures that she remains isolated so she has no one to fall back on. This, in turn, depletes her self-esteem. Work at enhancing it
  • Encourage her to get help. There are NGOs who help women in abusive relationships. Assist her in getting in touch with one such organization where she can receive dedicated support and expert advice
  • You might find yourself up against a wall if the woman fails to identify that she is an abusive relationship. Remain patient. You do not want to influence her decision, but she needs to know that there are choices that she can make. That she does not have to live through the hell that she is in. She needs to recognise that there is an issue

Help her keep her kids safe

Women in bad marriages stay on for the sake of the children. They are intimidated by the husband's threats that they would not allow her to take the children away. They are scared that the husband would cause physical harm to the children. For the woman, who is also a mother, her children's safety is of paramount importance.

  • Speak to her about what she can do to ensure her children's safety
  • Agree upon a way that she can let you know that she needs help. An action or a code word perhaps, so you can get timely help to her
  • Don't decide for her. Let her be the one to decide what actions she wants to take and the course her life takes. Meanwhile, stress upon her the need to stay focused on her safety, rather than what society will say
  • Share material with her, that can help her. Articles on abuse or list of organizations that help women in distress
  • Advice her to prepare a backup plan to which she could fall back on. Maybe keep aside some money, outside the house, which she can access if she has to flee. Suggest that she takes charge of vital documents, such as her passport and keeps them in s safe place, for use in an emergency
  • Encourage her to be brave and not to take the abuse, even if that means going to the neighbors or to a relative or to the police. For at the end of the day, her safety and that of her children is her responsibility
  • The children should be told whom they can trust and whom they must turn to in an emergency
  • Lastly, and most importantly, meet the spouse and have a word with him. Encourage him to see a psychologist or a counselor, for the problem is definitely with him. No matter what the excuse, his violent and sadistic behavior can never be an excused. He needs help, and he has to be made to understand this fact

Meanwhile, victims of domestic abuse can call the following numbers for assistance. The helpline for women in distress help women facing domestic violence –

  • Mumbai based Aasra – 22-27546669
  • Saath based in Ahmedabad – 2630554
  • Sahai in Bangalore – 080-2549777
  • Maitreyi in Pondicherry – 413-339999
  • Roshini based in Hyderabad – 40-7904646
  • Sneha in Chennai – 044-24640050
  • The Samaritans of Mumbai – 22-23073451
  • Sumaitri in New Delhi – 011-23389090
  • Cochin based Maithri – 2396272
  • One Life In Hyderabad – 9849215195
  • IAHP in Tiruppur (TN) – 077-08000040

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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Author: Natarajan25 Sep 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 6

Excellent article madam. Nice detailed write up of how to build trust with victims of abuse and how to support them. Domestic violence is unfortunately under reported vastly in India. Some think it is a way of life and its okay to humiliate and be humiliated.

Most often women, young and old, are the victims. It takes lot of courage and encouragement to even get them to seek help, let alone approaching the police. Housewives, daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law are often the victims, for the sake of their family, these noble women suffer in silence day in and day out.

Just few of my thoughts on this issue-

1.Every neighborhood or locality will have respected senior citizens or elders who help to settle small disputes peacefully without using force or going to police. I think we can encourage the victim and the abuser to sit with their families along with these seniors and try to settle the issues. This can happen side by side with counselling. If this fails or matters escalate then always we can approach the law.

2. I think women suffering in silence do so because they are made to be just home makers. If we can encourage them to see the outside world, empower them with a job so that they can earn some money and respect, automatically their morale will improve and they would be able to handle the situation well.

3. However much we can sympathize with them, they would relate more to a person who has undergone abuse and successfully come out of it. If major NGOs can make support group meetings happen for such victims to be able to gather, exchange their stories, figure out solutions over some simple food, with some counselors at hand and also have some long term help centers that are basically run by victims themselves, the plight of such victims can be reduced or addressed.

Author: Juana26 Sep 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 9

Thank you for your feedback, but here is what I think –

1. Domestic abuse is not a dispute. It is an unprovoked behaviour of cruelty and violence. There are no issues. It is just about control. It is a psychological disorder because normal people do not go around assaulting others or depriving them of basic needs. They do not use blackmail to get a spouse to submit.
2. Elders and families intervention rarely helps, because they aren't trained, counsellors. At the end, they are told to stay out, and their involvement is unwelcome.
3. Let's not shield the criminal. I am not opposed to families mediating. However, this works, if at all, when there is a misunderstanding between the couple. Behavioural incidents cannot be controlled through counselling. Let's not forget, men think of women as their ‘property'. A married woman ceases to be an individual and has to do what is ‘expected' of her. Cover her head if that is the family custom, eat after the husband if that is a tradition…
4. Repeated incidents of abuse need to be addressed through proper channels.
5. I have known fiercely independent women being battered. I do not even have to look at newspapers, because I know of real-life women – one is an ophthalmologist (she finally walked out), another was a beautician (I don't know what became of her), the third is an IT professional earning more than her husband and another who worked for the Government as a Class I officer, she divorced the man. I am not making mention of women from the lower strata that get beaten routinely.
6. The problem is we are a debauched society that does not want the man to be punished for his actions. A crime is a crime, even if it happens within a marriage. Why the attempt to shield him? Why treat him with kid gloves? Why not use the laws that are there for women's safety?
7. We as a society fail our women because parents tell their daughters that their marital home is their home. Women are taught to be submissive, right from a young age. This is the reason that they do not speak out when the abuse happens, the first time. Abuse would reduce if women are also taught to raise their voices and let the world know of the crime within their own home. Parents stop their daughters from talking about the abuse. It is treated as an embarrassment. They ask her to adjust, ask her to do what he wants. They don't even think of her walking out as an option – because what would society say. So, many parents speak up, after their daughters are killed or kill themselves. Why wait for a daughter to be dead. Isn't her life precious when she is alive? Such humbug!

Author: Swati Sarnobat13 Nov 2018 Member Level: Gold   Points : 3

In developing or underdeveloped nations, women are not strong enough to fight for any injustice caused to them, even if they are educated and are earning a livelihood. So, the Women Welfare Association should undertake an active step to ensure justice to women. The administration should also undertake an active step by making the punishment stringent. The civil laws should be timely amended because technology is rapidly changing. A woman should be strong enough to fight for herself. The associations or clubs should provide opportunities for women to become smarter and utilize their strength in the right channel.

Author: Juana19 Jun 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 6


Domestic violence is not limited to developing or underdeveloped nations. That is a myth and there is no truth in it. Violence against women happens even in the most developed countries. Domestic violence is a reality and it happens even when women are educated and employed.

The problem is with the mental setup, where women are not seen as equal. Men who use violence against women seek to control. They want to assert their power and manliness and what better way to do that than to intimidate her with physical, mental and verbal abuse.

Laws are there, but women also need the courage to make use of those laws. Most often they are scared and lack the confidence to stand up and report the violence. They are scared of what the society will say and when children are involved walking out becomes more difficult.

We need more support groups. I also feel neighbour and society should step in. Parents should also stand by their daughter instead of letting her suffer because they are too scared of what the relatives and society will say.

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