Trigger Warning: This article contains content that discusses various forms of violence against women, including physical and sexual abuse, emotional manipulation and harassment. The material may be distressing and triggering for some readers. We recommend exercising caution while reading, and suggest reaching out to a support system or a mental health professional if you feel distressed.

Globally, one in three women are subjected to physical or sexual violence at least once in their life. Most violence against women is perpetrated by current or past partners. Less than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help.  

On December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is observed in Canada, it’s important to reflect on these numbers. The date was born from a tragedy – it pays tribute to the 14 young women in Montréal who were murdered and 13 others who were injured on the date in 1989 in an act of misogyny. Today, the date honours women who have lost their lives to gender-based violence and serves as a reminder that we must each commit to creating a world where women and girls can live freely.

Identifying signs of physical or sexual violence in women is the first step towards helping them. Once you know how to identify signs of abuse or violence, it’s equally important to respond with sensitivity. Whether it’s a classmate, friend or a family member, there’s a lot you can do to support them.

Woman rests her head on another person's shoulder.
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Signs of violence against women

Often, there are many warning signs that can be caught if you stay watchful and perceptive.

  • Physical: Abusive partners often have violent outbursts that turn physical. You may notice things like unexplained injuries or sudden odd clothing choices (long-sleeved shirts in summer). You may even witness their abuser publicly berate them or threaten them.
  • Social: You may notice them constantly asking for permission or checking in with their partner before making plans, or frequently skipping preplanned social outings without offering clear reasons. Unexplained personality changes are also a big warning sign – for example, your normally-confident friend may begin displaying low self-esteem and withdrawing inwards.
  • Financial: Abuse can also manifest financially, with an abuser withholding money to retain control. If the person you are concerned about does not have any money despite working, or often makes excuses about having “issues” with their bank account, it may be a warning sign.

Experts say there are many more signs to look out for; you can learn more about them here. Now that you know what to watch for, it’s time to learn how you can help support them and be an ally.

Start the conversation on their terms

Two women in a college team talking to one another.
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Experts recommend starting a conversation on their terms – ask them how they prefer to communicate, the locations, times or platforms they are most comfortable using, and never push them to do more than they are ready for. If their communication is being monitored, you can suggest code words or secret signs to talk safely without raising the abuser’s suspicions.

Offer support and be patient

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It’s important to consistently reassure your friend that they are not alone and support is available. Often, they may not be as forthcoming about their situation as you’d like them to be, and they may even lie to protect the abuser or refuse to take action. Be patient – do not force them into a “quick fix” or display judgement or criticism. Give them time to open up, and when they do, listen carefully and be empathetic.

Give them control

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Give them control over the situation or conversation in all your interactions. Remember that abuse takes control away from victims. If you are offering help, let them guide the decisions around who to tell, what to do, and when to seek help. This will not only help them open up to you more but also empower them to take action.

Respect their choices

Two women in a field holding up flowers.
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Experts suggest that unless you strongly believe that your friend’s life is in danger, you should avoid taking actions without asking for their consent. They know the risks best, and you should not take it upon yourself to drive any decisions related to their life. You should respect their choice and support them even if you find yourself internally disagreeing with it.

If you ever find yourself or your friend experiencing any form of abuse, remember that you have various resources at Humber College and University of Guelph-Humber to help support you.

Featured image by Anete Lusina via Pexels

Want to hear about other ways people are helping transform lives for the better? Read about Humber College’s incredible student advocates.

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