Ask SAFE: Is this abuse?

Written by SAFE

I suspect that my friend is in an unhealthy relationship. I’ve never noticed any visible injuries, but her partner seems super controlling. He won’t let her go out without him, and when they’re together he is constantly criticizing her. Should I bring it up to my friend?

Abuse can include much more than physical violence – It can include emotional, psychological, or financial abuse and revolves around maintaining power and control over a partner. You can learn more about these dynamics here so you can comfortably discuss them with your friend if they would like.

Be thoughtful about how you bring this conversation up. Start by listening and letting your friend know you are there to support them in whatever decisions they make about the situation. Leaving an abusive relationship is a very difficult thing to do, and it’s important to not pass judgement on your friend. It’s also important to remember that leaving can be one of the most dangerous and highly lethal times for a survivor. Remind them that they are not to blame for the abuse and that they deserve to be safe. They can always contact the 24/7 SAFEline to talk about safety planning; it is a very important step when making a decision to leave an abusive situation.

Offer to help them find local resources if they are interested. If they don’t know exactly what they want or need at this point, that’s ok. Talk to them about various options and allow them to choose what feels helpful.

Don’t give up. Everyone works through difficult situations in their own way and in their own time. Be mindful that although your friend may make choices different from what you may hope, ultimately they know what is best for them and their situation. Continue being supportive, and seek out support for yourself if needed, as offering support as a helper can be taxing.

I work at a childcare center and there is a little 3 year old in my class. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed his behavior change; he’s having more tantrums, often refuses to eat, and even started hitting some of the other children while playing. When his parents picked him up one day, I heard them screaming at each other in the parking lot. Is this child in danger? What should I do? 

Children, especially young children, often can’t express if they are experiencing violence at home, so it’s important to be aware of changes in behavior that may suggest something is happening. While the child is at daycare with you, make sure they feel safe and supported by keeping regular routines, connecting with the child, and letting them make decisions. Let the child know they can talk to you if they are upset or worried about things at home. Help them learn positive relationship skills, such as how to use words vs. physical aggression, how to set and respect boundaries, and express feelings.

Sometimes it just takes one person asking if everything is OK and making sure that they are safe. Try to build relationships with the parents at your school so you are able to talk to them about anything that may be happening, especially changes in a child’s behavior. If you have a relationship with the parent, and you feel comfortable speaking with them in private, let them know about your concerns and encourage them to contact SAFE or another resource. Also remember that just because parents fight does not necessarily mean a child is being abused. Watch for behavioral changes in the child.

Texas law requires that any person suspecting that a child has been abused or neglected must immediately make a report. If there is an emergency, call 911 and then call the DFPS Texas Abuse Hotline at 1.800.252.5400. Make sure you have as much information as possible about the child and where they can be seen/interviewed if necessary as well as any specifics about the abuse. 

My teenage son recently started dating, and he spends almost all of his free time with his partner. Even when they’re not together, he’s constantly texting or talking on the phone with them. He seems happy, but I’m wondering… is this healthy? 

In today’s smartphone age, it can be hard to distinguish the line between how connected is too connected. While it may be a difficult conversation, consider talking to your son about your concerns and the importance of maintaining personal time with family and friends for your son and his partner.

If your son is having trouble setting boundaries with his partner, help him by role playing how to set limits on the amount of calls/texts or length of time he can spend on the phone. If you suspect that your son is the one initiating most of the contacts, share your concerns with him and help him understand the potential impact of his repeated calls on his partner’s well-being.

Having a strong, trusting relationship with your son will let him know that you are available to talk about things happening in his life. Keep communication open and let him know that you are someone he can come to if he begins to notice unhealthy behavior in his relationship and wants to talk about it.

Use TV, movies, news, and other media events as opportunities to discuss healthy vs. unhealthy relationship behaviors. Ask you children what they think, how they feel, and what’s important to them in a friend or a dating partner. Model supportive and respectful relationship behavior toward your children and your spouse or partner.

SAFE’s Expect Respect program also provides free, school-based groups where young people can talk with peers about peer and dating relationships. Expect Respect is built on an ecological, trauma-informed model that supports youth who have already been exposed to violence, mobilizes youth leaders, and promotes safe schools and communities.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing abuse, SAFE is available for support and safety planning. SAFEline is a 24-hour confidential hotline for people seeking help with sexual or domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, or parenting support and is available by phone at 512.267.SAFE (7233), by text at 737.888.7233, or by chat at