If you think someone you know is or has been experiencing domestic violence, there are lots of ways that you can help them. 
People’s reactions to experiencing domestic violence can vary; they may be afraid, angry or have no outward reaction at all. 

They may act in ways that seem unusual to you, even laughing at seemingly inappropriate times or trivialising what has happened to them.

Disclosures can come in many forms; it could be something said jokingly, a story that someone starts to tell but then stops and says it doesn't matter, or it could be a question. You are not expected to be a professional counsellor. However, how someone responds to a first disclosure can be really important. It can feel difficult to know how to act and respond to a friend when they disclose - you may feel horrified, shocked, or angry that this is happening to them.  In addition, it can take time for a person to decide what they want to do and how they want to move forward. 

  • The most common reason people choose not to tell anyone about domestic abuse is the fear that the listener won’t believe them. Therefore, it is important that they are believed. People rarely lie about domestic abuse - the percentage of false allegations is thought to be less than 3%. 
  • It is also very important to let go of your own judgements about what you might have done in their position, and accept that they are coping in the way that is appropriate for them.
  • You do not need to know what happened in order to help them, and it may re-traumatise them if they have to go over it in detail. Don’t be surprised if what they say to you doesn’t seem to add up; trauma and shock can affect memory.

Domestic Abuse is NEVER the responsibility or fault of the victim/survivor; no one should be abused because of what they say or do or how they act. So remember that your friend is not responsible for the abuse. If your friend blames themselves, it may helpful if you remind them that they are not to blame and that the perpetrator had a choice about how they acted. 

Things you could say...
It can be hard to know what to say to a friend when they confide in you. Refrain from asking a lot of questions. Try to support your friend with these phrases instead:
  • It’s not your fault
  • I’m sorry this happened
  • I believe you
  • How can I help you?
  • I'm glad you told me
  • I’ll support your choices
  • You’re not alone

This is also a good time to share with them your belief in the possibility of healing. Let your friend know that you believe that they have the strength and capacity to heal.  
Respect their privacy 
  • Don’t tell others what your friend has told you.
  • If you do need to share information for your friend’s safety, get permission by letting your friend know what you will share and with whom it will be shared. If you are worried that your friend or someone else is in imminent danger, you can explain that you will need to tell someone in this instance. If you are unclear about what to do, you can speak with Student Wellbeing Services any time.

Respect your friend's autonomy
  • While you may think that a certain course of action is clear, it is important that your friend decides for themselves, finds their own solutions, sets their own boundaries and takes back control.
  • You may think your friend should report the abuse to the police, but it is not for you to approach the police or other services on your friend’s behalf, unless they ask you to do so, a child is at risk, or you are very scared and think your friend is in immediate and serious danger.
  • Your friend will be struggling with complex decisions and feelings of powerlessness - making decisions for them may increase that sense of powerlessness.
  • You can be supportive by helping your friend to identify all the available options and then supporting their decision-making process.
  • You can tell your friend that even if they do not want to report to the police, there are specialist agencies who can offer confidential advice and support. Depending on when the violence happened (if within the last 7 days), they can collect forensic evidence which can be stored should your friend decide they want to go to the police at a later date.
  • Don’t take things into your own hands such as confronting the perpetrator, threatening them or assaulting them. This is unhelpful, unsafe and could also be criminal.
  • Be patient and avoid putting pressure on your friend. It can be tempting to think or say things like ‘it happened years ago, forget about it’. But abuse, trauma and their effects are persistent. Even after someone has come to terms with what happened and has healed from the immediate trauma, they may react to some trigger years later. 
  • Try to find out what your friend needs from you, if anything. Don’t assume what they want or need. Just let them know that you are there for them.
Establish Safety

  • An important part of helping is to help your friend identify ways in which they can re-establish their sense of physical and emotional safety. Ask them what would make them feel safe and how you can help them accomplish this.  
  • Student Wellbeing Services and the local and national specialist agencies will all be able to help to establish safety by providing resources, support and safety planning.

Get support for yourself
  • Receiving disclosures can leave a mark on you, so it is important that as the person hearing the disclosure you have space to process your own emotions. 
  • Student Wellbeing Services can provide space and support for any student who has received a disclosure whilst respecting the privacy of all parties involved. The service is confidential unless there is an imminent risk of serious harm. 
  • You can also contact external specialist agencies for your own support as a responder.

  • Are they in immediate danger? If they are in immediate danger or seriously injured, you can call 999 (or 112 from a mobile).
  • Finding a safe space. If possible, try to help them find somewhere they feel safe. If this isn't possible and they are on campus, they can call Security on 01225 875555. The Out of Hours Wellbeing Team can also be contacted between the hours of 6pm and 2am by calling Security.

  • Talk to them - If you feel able, talking things over can sometimes be a big help.
  • Listen - Stay calm, be empathetic and show your concern. Try to listen without judging or directing.
  • Give options - Ask them if they are okay to talk through some possible options and next steps. Allow the individual to stay in control of the conversation and their decisions.
  • Domestic abuse is a crime of power and control - The most important thing is to respond in a way that helps maximise their choice and control over what happens next. You can simply ask them what they need or want. They might not make the same decision you would. However, only they can decide what is best for them. You can help them explore options, but avoid telling them what you think they should do.
  • Make sure you look after yourself, and if you need support, ask for it.
  • Contact Student Wellbeing Services: they will ensure you are able to access the services you need, including referral to specialist services, if this is what you want to do.

  • Report and Support - Students and staff can report an incident using the University’s Report and Support system. You can choose to do this anonymously or you can request support from an advisor. If you choose to speak with an advisor, they will be able to speak with you in confidence about the options and support available to you.
  • University Procedure - If you choose to make a formal complaint to the University about a student or member of staff, there are procedures which set out the steps that will need to be followed. 


There are two ways you can tell us what happened