I am a friend or family member

What is abuse?

Abuse is any behaviour designed to gain power and control over a spouse, partner, child or other intimate family member. Many people associate the word ‘abuse’ with physical violence, but family violence is not limited to physical abuse. Sexual violence or abuse is any type of sexual contact or behaviour that a person does not willingly and explicitly agree to. 

For more information on the types of abuse, visit this page.

What are the signs someone is in an abusive relationship?

It’s not always obvious that a friend or loved one is in a harmful relationship, especially as physical injuries may not be present. Keep an eye out for:

  • excuses for injuries;
  • personality changes – such as low self-esteem;
  • constantly checking in with their partner;
  • never having money on hand;
  • missing school/work/social occasions with no clear reason

This is by no means a complete list. If you’re worried or unsure, we suggest calling our helpline on 0800 28482 669 and talking to someone.  

What are the signs of family violence/abuse in children?

The signs of abuse in children are different than they are in adults.  Some of the impacts on children include:

  • an inability to concentrate or engage appropriately in learning or play activities
  • becoming withdrawn, uncommunicative, isolated
  • finding it difficult to form attachments and maintain good relationships with adults and other children
  • trouble sleeping, or settling down
  • showing disruptive behaviours - tantrums, bullying, aggression
  • excessive fears, shyness
  • unhappiness, worries and anxiety
  • demanding excessive attention
  • physical or emotional neglect
  • being unable to confide in or trust other adults

Visit this page to find out more about what to do, if you suspect a child is being abused.

How can you support someone in an abusive relationship?

If your friend or family member is in an abusive relationship, they may have a different point of view than you. They might not realise what they’re experiencing is abuse, or even if they do, they might choose to stay in their relationship. This can be painful to watch, but it’s important to still be there for them.

Here’s a few practical things you can do:

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out – tell your friend you’re concerned about them and want to help.
  • Connect your friend to organisation which can help, such as Aviva, or The Loft
  • Help make a safety plan
  • Be supportive. Listen patiently and respect their feelings and decisions. It might seem small, but by showing up and showing care, you’re making a huge difference. People experiencing abuse can blame themselves, and suffer low self esteem – show them through your actions that they’re valued, important and worthy of respect.
  • Focus on the person you’re trying to support, not their partner.
  • If the person chooses to end the relationship, continue to support them and validate their feelings

What not to do:

  • Do not contact the person who you think is being abusive, post or share negative things about them
  • Although you might disagree with a person’s opinion of their relationship, or their decision to stay, don’t criticise them for it. Even if your loved one stays in the relationship, it’s important they still feel comfortable talking to you about it
How can you support someone who has been sexually assaulted?

When someone you care about discloses to you that they have been sexually assaulted, it's understandable if you don't know how best to support them. Although nothing can erase the trauma a person has experienced, there are some things you can do to help them. 

Here's a few things you can do:

  • Believe them and reassure them that you're on their side. One of the most common fears people who have been sexually assaulted experience is of not being believed.
  • Encourage them to seek support. It is important never to insist, or force them to seek medical attention, counselling, or to press charges. However, you can suggest these things, while assuring them that you will support them, if that's what they want. 
  • Listen to your friend and ask what they need. Don't get frustrated if they don't have an answer. Be patient; if the assault was recent it's likely your friend is in shock and needs to process what's happened. 
  • Continue to support them after the initial shock and trauma; the effects of sexual assault can last for years. 

What not to do:

  • Don't minimise what happened, or try to help your friend 'cheer up'. We can do this unintentionally, when we assure people that they'll soon 'be themselves again', or try to distract them/change the subject when they're talking.
  • Don't take control of the situation - you might think you know what's best for your friend, but it's important to let them make their own decisions. Following a sexual assault, people often feel disempowered and violated. Although it's completely understandable to want to take over in an effort to help, you need to let your friend decide what actions to take, in their own time. 
  • Don't say anything judgemental - for example, don't comment about how they ended up in the situation, or ask how much they had had to drink. 

Lastly, remember it's important to take care of yourself; supporting someone through a trauma can take its toll and be potentially triggering for the supporter.  Stay connected with your own support system and make time for yourself. You can't support somebody if your own reserves are depleted. 

For information about Aviva's Sexual Assault Support Service, and other support services in New Zealand, visit this page.

Contact us

For more advice, or to discuss a particular situation: