How to Tell if a Woman Is Being Abused

Four Methods:Recognizing Physical and Sexual AbuseRecognizing Emotional AbuseRecognizing Financial and Workplace AbuseHelping a Female Friend Who is Being Abused

If you think a woman you know, be she a friend, family member, or coworker is being abused, it is very important to know what specific signs to look for. Abuse can range from physical, to psychological, to financial, and everywhere in between. If someone you know is being abused, you can read more about how to help her in Method 4. If you are witnessing abuse occurring at this moment, call the police and report the incident.[1]

Method 1
Recognizing Physical and Sexual Abuse

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    Understand what physical abuse is. Physical abuse is any action done to a woman with the intention of harming or endangering her. It can also include forcing her to physically act in any way that is against her will.[2] Physical abuse can include:
    • Punching, kicking, hitting, or attacking a woman physically.
    • Using a weapon to physically injure a woman.
    • Using physical strength to make a woman do something, act submissive, or give up control.
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    Identify signs that a woman is being abused physically. Physical abuse often results in injuries like cuts and bruises. The person doing the abusing may force the woman to cover up these injuries. If you see a woman with the following, she may be in an abusive physical relationship:
    • Marks of injury like burns, bruises, open wounds, and unexplained fractures.
    • She may avoid contact with everyone.
    • You may notice she trembles a lot and is startled easily.
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    Be aware of what sexual abuse is. Sexual abuse is when a woman is forced to engage in sexual acts against her consent. It can also include another person controlling her ability to choose what to do with her body, such as forcing her to go through with a pregnancy or have an abortion. Sexual abuse may also include:
    • Forcing the woman to have sex or engage in sexual activities, or forcing her to watch while someone else engages in sexual activities.
    • Harming the woman during intercourse.
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    Recognize signs that a woman is being sexually abused. There are certain signs that you can look out for if you are concerned that a woman you may know is being sexually abused. However, many of these signs are physical and can be covered up by clothing, which will make it hard to recognize. Signs include[3]:
    • Bruises around her buttocks, breasts, and genitals.
    • Difficulty walking, sitting or moving.
    • Unexplained pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, or stomach and abdominal pain.
    • Signs of exhaustion.
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    Listen for excuses that don’t make sense. A common sign of physical abuse is giving unbelievable excuses to account for reoccurring injuries. The woman may seem to have a new injury, and a new excuse, every day. The person abusing her may threaten her with more violence if she tells anyone what really happened to her, so she comes up with excuses for each injury.
    • If you notice that a woman you know seems to have a new injury every day, you should consider confronting her about her situation. See Method 4 for more information.
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    Take note if you are not allowed to see or interact with the woman for suspicious reasons. Some abusers may force the woman to remain isolated in order to hide the injuries that have been inflicted upon her.
    • If you have attempted to see your friend on several occasions, and she has declined or given odd excuses, you may be right in becoming suspicious.

Method 2
Recognizing Emotional Abuse

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    Know what emotional abuse refers to. Emotional abuse is the use of verbal or psychological abuse to control or subjugate another person. This sort of abuse can be displayed in a number of ways, including:
    • Constantly criticizing the woman by mocking, scolding or bullying her.
    • Using emotions like extreme jealousy, hostility, or aggression to intimidate and manipulate her.
    • Refusing to be pleased, even when the woman is doing everything within her power to try to make the person happy.
    • Threatening and scaring the woman with gestures and actions without actually physically hurting her.
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    Look for signs of emotional abuse. When a woman is in an emotionally abusive relationship, she may begin to act differently. Abusive relationships can take a toll psychologically, and a once outgoing and friendly woman may become withdrawn or depressed. If a woman you know develops the following characteristics, she may be in an emotionally abusive relationship.
    • She shows a low confidence level and lacks self-esteem.
    • She is embarrassed to voice her opinions, and may not maintain eye contact with you when she does.
    • She may withdraw from other relationships, like friendships, and may mention that her partner is “very jealous” or “protective”.
    • She may cry a lot, or look like she has recently been crying; her eyes may be red, puffy, and swollen, with dark circles underneath them.
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    Understand that spiritual abuse can be a form of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse, which can also be called psychological abuse, can also involve denying the woman her right to practice her religion. Her abuser may put her down for her beliefs or religion. The abuser may also:
    • Limit her access to her place of worship.
    • Prohibit her from performing religious acts.
    • Force her to participate in the abuser’s religion against her will.

Method 3
Recognizing Financial and Workplace Abuse

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    Understand what financial abuse refers to. Financial abuse involves taking over a woman’s finances and properties without her consent. The abuser may forcefully take the woman’s financial and identification information in order to gain access to her finances. Financial abuse can also include[4]:
    • Stealing money from the woman or woman’s family.
    • Forcing the woman to give up information about her bank accounts.
    • Controlling what the woman is allowed to buy, or putting her on an “allowance” against her will.
    • Not giving the woman enough money to properly care for herself or her family.
    • Forcing the woman to cash in bonds, stocks and other assets.
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    Look for signs of financial abuse. While financial abuse is harder to recognize that other forms of abuse, there are some signs that you can look for if you think a woman is being abused financially.
    • If a woman has a well-paying job but has old, tattered clothes, or looks like she is malnourished, she may be the victim of financial abuse.
    • Notice if the woman is very careful with her money, saves all of her receipts, and very rarely buys things. Note that this could just be the signs of someone who is trying to save money. You may want to bring up the topic by lightly saying something like “Saving up for a big trip?” or something that broaches the topic.
    • Take note of broken or damaged property, or if the woman has suddenly lost a great deal of property.
    • Pay attention if you notice that the woman is unable to access her accounts or go to the bank.
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    Be aware that workplace abuse can occur. This can also be called sexual harassment. Workplace abuse is when a woman is confronted with sexual advancements, verbal or physical actions that insult or bully the woman, or is threatened by co workers, both physically and verbally. Workplace abuse is taking place if:
    • The woman’s employment is affected by the sexual advancements or abuse of her coworkers.
    • The woman’s ability to get work done is hindered by the sexual harassment or verbal threats she receives.
    • She feels intimidated, scared, or offended by the people doing these actions.
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    Pay attention to signs of workplace abuse. If you think a woman is being abused in your workplace, but she has not stepped forward or said anything, look out for signs that may include:
    • The woman looks scared when she gets to work and avoids the office as much as possible.
    • She is often absent or late to work.
    • She has a low performance level even though her past work has shown that she is more than capable of doing the work.

Method 4
Helping a Female Friend Who is Being Abused

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    Call a support hotline if you do not know how to confront your friend, or are afraid that a woman you know may be in serious danger. If you are concerned about a woman you know, be she a friend, co worker, or acquaintance, and you do not know how you can help her without putting her in further danger, contact an agency that can help you. These agencies include:
    • The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233).
    • Office on Violence Against Women, DOJ.
    • Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.
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    Set up a time to talk with your friend and tell her that you are concerned for her safety. Try to make sure that you can be alone with the woman and away from anyone who you suspect may be abusing her.
    • Setting up a private talk may help your friend to open up about her situation.
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    Tell your friend that you are concerned that she is not safe. Bring up times when you have been afraid for your friend, or have noticed your friend acting oddly. Try to help her to see that she does not need to be in this situation, and that there are ways she can get out of it.
    • Make it clear that you are here to support her in any way you can.
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    Be supportive and listen to everything that your friend has to say. Try to remember that it might be very difficult for your friend to open up about her experiences. Listen to everything she has to say and make it clear that you are on her side.
    • Consider offering specific support, be it driving her to places, helping her with her children, or simply just offering a shoulder to cry on.
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    Do not make her feel guilty. While you may have a lot of anger towards the abuser, try not to make your friend feel guilty or shameful by saying something like “Why haven’t you left him already?”. Instead, use your own worries to make her understand that she has options.
    • Say something like “I get really scared when I think about you being alone with him. I want to help you find a solution in anyway that I can.”
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    Suggest talking to a professional who can help. Try to encourage your friend to seek the help of a professional. This could include talking to a domestic violence agency, or even contacting the police.
    • While you may want to contact these institutions for her, she needs to be the one to seek help.
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    Discuss a safety plan. Help your friend to come up with a plan that will keep her, and her family if she has one, safe. Talk about[5]:
    • Ways that she can get away from her abuser, along with her children and, if possible, her pets.
    • Places she could go that her abuser will not look for her, such as a shelter for abused women, or the house of a friend where the abuser will not find her.
    • Discuss the means of getting a court order of protection, which will force the abuser to stay away from the woman.
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    Try to be supportive no matter what your friend decides. Sadly, people in abusive relationships often choose to stay with the abuser for many different reasons. Your friend may decide to leave the abuser, but then may return to the person again. If she does this, continue to offer her any support that you can and try to encourage her to spend time away from the abuser.[6]
    • If your friend decides to leave the abuser for good, try to support your friend emotionally during this very difficult time. Offer to help her get support from services that work with abused women.


  • If you see abuse occurring in front of you, call the police immediately. You may be asked to give an oral or written account of what you witnessed.[7]

Article Info

Categories: Domestic Violence | Abuse