Woman holding white ribbon

Domestic violence: how to keep yourself safe

One in six women have experienced violence by an intimate partner and, on average, one woman per week is killed by a current or former partner.[i]

Each year, organisations such as White Ribbon choose one day in particular for people to come together in solidarity to raise awareness of gendered violence.

This year, White Ribbon Day takes place on November 18, with people urged to wear a white ribbon that stands for never taking part in, condoning or staying silent about violence against women.

Men and, in particular, young boys and teenagers, are encouraged to wear the white ribbon to support and highlight that pledge, whilst reflecting on the gender norms in our society.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, is any pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to maintain power and control over an intimate partner.[ii]

Although domestic is in the name, this type of abuse doesn’t have to take place in your home or anywhere else, just in your relationship.

Signs of domestic violence

Knowing if you’re in an abusive relationship can be difficult. Lots of people in abusive relationships feel like they’re at fault, but this is never the case.

ReachOut Australia has put together some of the signs that could indicate that you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship. Remember, these signs aren’t mutually exclusive.


Your partner might show signs of possessiveness, like constantly checking in to see where you are and who you’re with.

This can extend to trying to control where you go and who you see, like limiting the amount of time you spend with your friends.

When you’re not together, this possessiveness can often take the form of multiple text messages and frequent calls.


Jealousy is a common sign that you’re in an abusive relationship. If your partner is jealous, they may accuse you of being unfaithful or flirting.

Just like possessiveness, you may find your partner isolating you from family and friends, along with behaving rudely to them when confronted.


Put-downs, both in public and private spaces, can be a tell-tale sign that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Put-downs can be varied and include attacks on difference aspects of your intelligence, appearance, mental health, capabilities or opinions.

They can also come in the form of constantly comparing you to others, blaming you for all the problems in your relationship and for their violent outbursts.


You may find your partner threatening you, your family, friends or a pet, with physical violence. They may have outbursts, shout or sulk.

Along with this, your partner may break things that are of value, such as your mobile phone or things that hold sentimental value.

Physical/sexual violence

Your partner might be physically violent with you, which includes pushing, shoving, hitting and grabbing you.

They may also be sexually violent towards you, which can include making you have sex or other things you don’t want to do.

What to do if you’re a victim of domestic violence

If you think you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re in danger. That’s why it’s vital to look after yourself and start dealing with the situation. Don’t put it off.

Call 000

If you’re in danger, or if you have been threatened, physically hurt or sexually assaulted, don’t hesitate. Call 000 immediately.

Talk to someone

If you’re not in immediate danger, or you don’t want to call the police, then it’s vital that you talk to someone about your situation.

This can be a friend, family member or even a work colleague. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to them, seek the help of a professional.

Psychologists and other medical professionals are trained to deal with domestic violence, and they can support you with anything you need.

Seek alternative shelter

If you need to leave your property, it’s a good idea to seek alternative shelter beforehand. This can be with a family member or friend.

Unfortunately, not everyone has friends and family to turn to, so if this is the case, seek out your nearest refuge centre by looking online.

Most refuge centres have other useful services, such as legal advice, and practical help, including things like food and clothing support.

What to do if you think someone is a victim of domestic violence

Suspecting your friend or loved one is a victim of domestic violence can be deeply upsetting, and taking action can seem daunting.

However, it’s vital that you’re there for your friend, especially when there’s a good chance you’ll be the first person they come to for support.

The NSW Government has outlined a few steps you can take to look out for your friend or loved one if you suspect they’re a victim of domestic violence.[iii]

Be respectful

Try not to give your opinion. Instead, approach the person and start the conversation by letting them know you’re worried about them.

Proceed to talk about things you’ve noticed rather than what you think. For example, “I’ve noticed you have some bruises. How did that happen?”

Don’t judge

Listen to the person carefully and show empathy. Make sure you are in a place where they feel safe and believe what they’re telling you.

It’s important never to blame them for what’s happening. It’s also vital never to underestimate their fear of danger.

Offer support

Continue to reinforce the fact that no one deserves to be abused, beaten or threatened and that it is never their fault, under any circumstances.

Remind them of their good qualities and how much of a good person they are, looking towards their strengths and how they’ll get through this.

Allow them to make their own decisions

You can’t force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, so if your friend isn’t ready to seek help or end the relationship, don’t criticise or disregard them.

Remember, domestic violence can be complex, and ending any relationship is difficult, let alone when there’s domestic violence involved.

Keep in mind that, by talking to you, your friend or family member has taken major strides to address the situation they’re in.

Help them find a support service

Put together some information and useful contact numbers of domestic violence support services in their local area.

Let your friend or family member know they’re not alone and that these services are there to support them and help them out of their situation.

Help them find a safe space

Your friend may decide to remain in the relationship, or even return to their partner after a temporary separation. If this is the case, don’t pressure them to leave.

Instead, tell them you’re afraid for their safety and remind her how dangerous the violence can be or how it has the potential to get worse.

To help keep them safe, there are a few things you can do, including:

  • Make a safety plan
  • Encourage to keep a diary of what’s happening (if it’s safe to do so)
  • Help them plan steps to take if her partner become violent again
  • Make a list of people to call in an emergency
  • Suggest she hides a suitcase of clothing and money and other important items
  • If you see an assault in progress, call 000 immediately

How you can play a role in societal and generational change

Domestic violence is totally and unequivocally unacceptable, and everyone needs to do their bit to help eradicate it from our society.

Prevention is always better than a cure and, whilst you need to keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms discussed earlier, you should also take a preventative approach.

This is especially important If you have children. You should teach them the importance of respect and how aggression and violence should never be used as a way of dealing with things.

Be a good role model

One of the ways you can do this is by looking at your own actions. Children are impressionable, so it’s important to make sure you’re being a responsible role model, helping to show your child how people should be treated by leading by example.

This doesn’t just apply to children, of course. Teenagers can be just as impressionable, so making sure you’re setting a good example can make an enormous difference, no matter the age of your child.

Unfortunately, despite domestic violence impacting both men and women, figures indicate that women are more at risk, so it’s especially important to teach values and principles to young boys and young men.

Break the cycle of violence

Domestic violence can take place in a cycle, and often in the form of normalised behaviour that’s passed down from one generation to the next.

For example, if as a child your parent was hit frequently, then they may find it acceptable to do the same to you, which might make it seem normal.

It’s important to think about your actions, and the actions of your parents and grandparents, and make sure you’re not normalising aggressive or violent behaviour to your children.

Stop making excuses

Saying things like “boys will be boys” and brushing off aggressive behaviour only normalises aggressions. This needs to stop.

Whilst all forms of disrespect don’t lead to violence, they often start with it, so make sure you stop your child whenever they act in an aggressive or violent way, and talk them through what they’re doing and why it’s wrong and dangerous.

Be willing to talk

Discussing what is right and wrong with your child sounds straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many people avoid conversations, especially when they think the issue doesn’t apply to them.

If you notice any worrying or concerning behaviour from your child, make sure you sit them down and talk to them. Even better, start the conversation before you notice anything.

Don’t make it a one-time thing. Talk often and remember that your child is never too young, and it’s never too late, to open up a dialogue about aggressive behaviour.

For urgent support

If there’s an immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please call 000.

If you need someone to talk with now, call:

  • 1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or chat online at beyondblue.org.au
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Safe Steps 1800 015 188
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Need to talk to someone?

If you want talk to one of the Access Psych team, take a look at our registered and provisional psychologists near you.

Alternatively, if you have any questions about Access Psych and what else we can do for you, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.

When you’re ready, you can book an appointment online, speak to one of our friendly team on 1800 277 924 or email info@accesspsych.com.au.


The information provided in this document is general in nature and is intended to be used for information purposes only. While we have tried to ensure the accuracy of the information published, no guarantee can be given that the information is free from error or omission or that it is accurate, current or complete.

The information published is not, and should not be relied on as, health or treatment advice. The diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness requires the attention of a physician or other properly qualified mental health professional. If you are seeking diagnosis or treatment of any other mental illness, you should consult a physician or mental health professional.  You should not delay in seeking, or disregard, professional health advice because of something you have read in this document.

[i] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-sexual-violence-in-australia-2018/summary

[ii] https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/what-is-domestic-abuse

[iii] https://www.dcj.nsw.gov.au/children-and-families/family-domestic-and-sexual-violence/my-situation-is—/i-want-to-help-someone-in-a-domestic-violence-situation.html