Know someone who's being abused?

girl looking out the window

If you are being abused emotionally, physically or sexually, it is important to tell someone. There is no shame in asking for help.

If you think a friend is being abused or at risk of harm, there is a lot you can do to help them. You should encourage them to talk about it, either to you or a trained counsellor, and if possible, report the abuse.

What is risk of harm?

You don't need to be sure that someone is being abused in order to make a report – you need only to suspect that they may be “at risk of harm”, ie, at risk of future abuse or neglect.

This could mean that they are exposed to domestic violence, or their physical, psychological or medical needs are not being met.

What is abuse?

Violence, neglect or emotional or sexual assault is termed “abuse” when it is done by someone who should be caring for the victim.

See more on abuse.

For young people, this could be a family member, relative, employer or adult you trust, or in fact, any one (not just adults) taking advantage of their position or authority over the young person to meet their own needs.

Although “child abuse” is the common term, it also applies to young people under the age of 16.

What are some signs of abuse?

Some of the signs of abuse are similar to emotional changes that occur in teenagers who are not being abused. Some teenagers with mental health issues or who are just going through a tough time may also be self-destructive, have eating disorders or push people away.

While this can make it difficult to know for sure, there are many other physical and psychological symptoms which may help you tell if your friend is being abused, especially if many of them occur together.

For example, some young people who are being abused:

  • stop seeing friends
  • change the way they dress
  • skip school
  • don't communicate, become secretive
  • have unexplainable bruising
  • get angry and aggressive at friends and family
  • put on weight or lose weight
  • don't care about their appearance
  • put themselves down
  • have difficulty concentrating and start getting lower school grades.

Note that abuse could be happening even if only some, or even none, of these signs are apparent.

See more on signs of abuse.

When reporting abuse, you don't have to be sure that it is happening. You only need to have reason to suspect risk of harm.

It's Community Services job to find out if abuse is really happening.

How will my friend be feeling?

If you know someone who may be experiencing, or has experienced abuse, they may feel a number of conflicting emotions.

These could include feeling dirty, ashamed, guilty, depressed, worthless, frightened, worried about abusing others, worried about sexuality, confused, isolated, lonely, suicidal, angry, embarrassed, or scared about having a boyfriend or girlfriend.

It is also likely they will find it difficult to talk about the abuse.

How do I talk to my friend about it?

It is really important that your friend has the chance to talk to someone they trust.

Often people who experience abuse really want to talk about it, but are too scared – of what people will think, of what might happen to them or the perpetrator or their whole family, or that people won’t believe them.

It’s also important that they tell someone so that the abuse can stop, they can start to get over what happened, and they can stop the same thing happening to someone else.

If you think your friend may be being abused, try to find a time when you can be alone together. Try to bring up the topic of your friend's relationship with the person you think is causing the abuse, in a general way. If the time seems right, ask how they’re getting on with the person you think may be abusing them.

You should encourage your firend to talk to a reponsible adult they feel comfortable with.

How do I report abuse?

If you suspect a friend is being abused, you can call or refer the person to Child Protection Helpline on 132 111 for the cost of a local call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Helpline will answer any questions and tell you what will happen next.

Community Services won’t tell anyone who reported the abuse to us. You don’t have to tell us your name if you don’t want to.

See more on making a report of abuse or risk of harm.

What will Community Services do?

When you tell us about abuse, our staff will ask you for more information to help them find out about the risk of harm to the young person involved.

If the young person is at risk of harm, we work with them and their family to make sure they are safe.

If we think they're in immediate danger, we will move them to a safe place.

We may also work with other organisations and professionals to make sure the young person and their families can access help and support.

See more on what happens when I make a report.

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To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call the Child Protection Helpline on 132 111 (24 hours/7 days)