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Ask an Advocate: Is Fighting Domestic Violence?

November 7, 2016

Through our Ask an Advocate series, we’re answering common questions about domestic violence that survivors and their family members may have. Read them all here.  

Dear Ned,

I have a friend who is always fighting with his girlfriend. He puts her down in front of others and calls her names. I don’t think it’s okay, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t think he hits her though. What should I do?

Not Sure What To Do


Dear Not Sure What To Do,

That is tough. It can be awkward and difficult to tell someone that their behavior is not okay. However, your instincts are on the right track for wanting to do something. It’s never okay for anyone to put someone else down or call them names. If he does this consistently and in a way that makes her worried about his reaction over what she does or says or makes her afraid of him, this is emotional abuse, which is a form of domestic violence – even if he doesn’t hit her.

If you feel comfortable saying something to him, I encourage you to do so. Simply tell him that it’s not okay for him to say those things to her. You don’t have to say too much. A simple: “Hey, man, that’s not cool. Don’t call her that.” Of course, he could react in a variety of ways. He might stop doing it because someone called him out on his unacceptable behavior. He might get aggressive or belligerent with you. Or he might just ignore you. But it’s still important to say something so that he knows that someone’s watching his behavior and is not okay with it.

If you feel comfortable, you might speak to his girlfriend. Tell her that there are people she can talk to, if his behavior and actions make her worried or afraid. You can give her the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline or refer her to some resources from the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Keep in mind that this might be difficult for her. She may be embarrassed, confused, or scared. She may be working through many emotions to try to figure out what to do herself, so be supportive and refrain from making strong suggestions on what she should do.

Meanwhile, as long as you think it is safe to do so, try to speak out against someone who may be abusing others. It can be hard to do because you are worried about the other person’s reaction or what other people will think. However, I’ve often found that as soon as one person speaks up, others will too. So speak up if you feel safe to do so. Hopefully, others will follow your lead.


Read more in our Ask an Advocate series.