Written by Josh Anderson
Before approaching your family member about potential abuse, learn to read the warning signs of an abusive relationship. The most obvious signs are physical, such as cuts, bruises, broken bones and other injuries that occur on a consistent basis without reason. However, not all signs are as visible. Watch for changes in character or appearance. People who are being abused often isolate themselves. The development of anxiety, depression and low self esteem, especially when coinciding with the start of a relationship can also signal abuse. The dynamic between the family member and the potential abuser also shows signs, such as feeling anxious or afraid to please the abuser, and a negative or verbally abusive dynamic when together.
If you suspect a family member is being abused, talk to them. Silence does not help the situation, and knowing that someone else knows may provide the bridge necessary for your family member to get out of the abusive situation. In many cases the family member may deny the presence of abuse out of fear, denial or even shame. In these cases, continue to be present and allow opportunities for your family member to confide in you for support. Point out specifics details of what you have seen and describe why it's wrong. Do not approach or investigate the abuser yourself. In the case of suspected child abuse, skip this step and move directly to reporting.
If you have reason to believe your family member is in imminent danger or you witness the abuse, contact the proper authorities. In the case of child abuse, report your suspicions immediately to your state child protective services agency or law enforcement. Do not investigate the situation yourself, leave it to the professionals to determine whether or not abuse is occurring so the child can be removed from the situation without incident. In many states you are required by law to report child abuse, especially if you hold positions such as nurse, doctor, teacher or daycare worker. Not reporting the abuse can result in you serving jail time.
Continue to support your family member regardless of the decisions they choose to make. While they may not leave the abuser right away, knowing they have a supportive family member may turn into the catalyst needed to end the relationship. Do not pressure them, blame them or judge them as this can have the opposite effect of what you're looking to do.
While it's difficult to step forward when you suspect a family member is a victim of abuse, not saying something allows the potential abuse to continue. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for abuse to escalate, which can end in injury or worse for your loved one. Do the right thing and help your family member by starting the process of removing them from a harmful situation.
Domestic Violence Resource Center: Domestic Violence Statistics