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By Kayla Empey

Posted on January 28, 2022

This article contains descriptions of physical and emotional abuse.

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When someone is experiencing gender-based violence, it may not be easy for them to admit and often the victim may try to cover up what is happening to them. Therefore, it can be helpful for a friend or family member to reach out to support them or for support on their behalf.

It’s not always easy to know when someone is experiencing gender-based violence, especially because it affects everyone differently. Signs can be physical or emotional, and some signs of violence are more detectable than others. You may be able to notice bruises on someone’s skin, but might not think much of your friend skipping out on one of your weekly movie nights.

With that being said, there are red flags to look out for if you suspect someone you know may be experiencing violence. Although these signs are not always concrete proof of abuse, they are worth paying attention to.

Physical signs

If someone is being physically abused, you may notice marks on their bodies or injuries that are consistent with being hit, punched or choked. This could include bruises on their arms or neck, black eyes, cut lips or sprained wrists. It is likely the person experiencing physical violence will have excuses for these injuries that are poor or inconsistent.

It is also common for people experiencing violence to try to cover up abuse with clothing. Someone wearing heavy makeup, sunglasses inside or long sleeves and scarves on a hot day could be an indication they are trying to hide bruises.

Emotional signs

Emotional signs of gender-based violence may be more difficult to detect, but emotional abuse is common and is just as serious as physical abuse.

Commonly, someone who experiences violence will experience feelings of hopelessness or fear. They may also be overly alert and never seem relaxed.

Other common signs include low self-esteem, symptoms of depression or anxiety, being easily agitated, sleeping too much or not sleeping enough, increased use of drugs and alcohol, being overly apologetic or talking about suicide.

These symptoms could also be due to differing factors, so it is important to note changes in the person’s behaviour as well.

mannequins covered in tape

Often, a person experiencing gender-based violence may become withdrawn and distant. This could especially be an important sign, particularly if they used to be outgoing but had a drastic change in demeanour.

Examples of behaviour change could be if the person cancels appointments or plans last minute, is often late, cuts off contact with friends and family or becomes private about their personal life.

In cases of domestic abuse, there are also subtle ways to tell if a partner may be controlling the person’s life. You might notice the person having to ask permission to go somewhere, having little money available to them or having to keep track of every dollar they spend, not having access to a vehicle, referring to their partner as jealous or possessive, or receiving constant calls and texts from their partner trying to track where they are.

How to help

If you believe someone you know might be experiencing gender-based violence, there are important steps you can take to help and support the person experiencing violence. With that being said, it is crucial to note that each individual situation varies, as does the severity of the danger.

Encourage the person experiencing abuse not to confront the abuser for their own protection. If the abuser is confronted, the violence could escalate. However, if the person affected is in immediate danger, call 911.

Usually, the best way to approach the situation is to tell the person you are observing that you see signs of violence and are concerned. It is important to reassure them it is not their fault, and that you will believe them and listen if they choose to tell you about their experiences.

You can also provide them physical support, such as offering rides to local shelters or taking care of their children while they seek help. You could also offer your home as a safe spot for them to stay, but only if this does not put your own safety at risk as well.

It is possible that someone experiencing abuse may deny the abuse when confronted. If this is the case, do not get upset or angry with their decision to not seek help. Understand that they may feel ashamed or not be ready to take the proper steps to safety. Instead, remind them that they can always talk to you and you must be ready to help if they decide it is needed.

If the person in a violent situation has children, gently tell them that you are concerned about the safety of the children. A person may be more willing to acknowledge their situation if there are children involved.

Don’t overstep or insert yourself into a situation when your help is declined. Give them information and resources on how to seek help and allow them to come to their own conclusion. Most importantly, let them know that you are willing to support them in finding help and receiving help if they so choose. No one wants to feel that they are alone.

If you or a loved one are experiencing gender-based violence, find family violence resources and services in your area or call a crisis hotline.

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