Straight Talk Advice

Hidden bruises, avoidance of home, signs of domestic abuse

Jul 14, 2015

Domestic abuse victim needs real-life angel to report suspicion

Dear Straight Talk: I share a room with my 13-year-old stepsister on visitations. A friend her age is always there. My stepsister says she’s actually tired of it but the girl begs to come over, yet never invites her in return. You can't help but notice serious bruises on her body and she is open about nudity like she wants us to see them. I asked what happened and she just shrugged saying she couldn't remember. I told my mom but she said it isn't our business and we could get sued if we wrongly accuse somebody of abuse. I cannot get this out of my mind. What should I do? —M.T., 16, Roseville, California

Meghan 21, State College, Pennsylvania Ask me a question

It’s not about making accusations but reporting observations. Domestic abuse helplines can advise you. This girl is definitely hoping you will notice. Tell your stepsister your suspicion and commend her for letting the friend stay over. Suggest she be given small chores so she doesn’t feel like she’s mooching. Explore with your family the idea of offering their home as safe haven. I'd slip a note in her bag with your phone number, offering a place to stay anytime things get bad.

Maddie 16, Cotati, California Ask me a question

These are serious signs of domestic abuse. A good friend’s mother used to help abused women and children find safe houses. Call a domestic abuse hotline or Child Protective Services. They will investigate what’s really going on.

Samantha 23, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

She is silently begging for you to see the bruises and get her help. She's too scared to do it on her own. You hit a dead end telling your mother. Is there a teacher you can tell? If not, call the police and they will investigate. It might open a can of worms, but if there’s any chance she's being abused, you’ve got to do it.

Shel 17, Pleasanton, California Ask me a question

Go to a counselor at the girl's school. A counselor is required to report this kind of thing. Don't accuse, just say her bruises and behavior show there could be some issues — and your name cannot be used. Honestly, as someone who’s had to contact the police for similar matters, it's much better to be mistaken than sorry you didn't call.

Nick 18, Corte Madera, California Ask me a question

Serious bruises like you're describing generally mean abuse. There's a strong possibility it’s coming from her home — or someone else is doing it and she's hiding it from her family. You can’t be sued for reporting suspicion of abuse. You are simply a good person trying to help an innocent girl. The sooner the abuse stops the better. Pick up the phone and call the police ASAP. They can get to the bottom of it.

Dear M.T.: I hope the panelists have encouraged you. Sadly, many adults like your mother are needlessly afraid of reporting abuse. Nick is correct that you cannot be sued. Most victims cannot, emotionally, ask for help and need angels like you. Child abuse causes lifelong scars. Reporting this before she enters adolescence could save her from spinning out in a variety of unhealthy trauma-induced behaviors that will only be met with further harshness from society. Counselor, teacher, police, Child Protective Services — all are good places to report the problem. Ultimately, Child Protective Services does the investigation so I recommend contacting them directly ASAP and tell them exactly what you’ve told us. Look them up by county and state, and if you continue seeing bruises, call again. You can do all the reporting anonymously. For more guidance, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. For emergency situations, including a sickening hunch, call 911 and send police to her home.

Editor's Note: Thanks to angels out there, a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds in the U.S.. Of these reports, Child Protective Services investigates over 3 million situations a year, including 4-5 deaths each day from child abuse. These figures just reflect what gets reported.

The cycle of child abuse is crucial to stop as it is estimated that 66 percent of abused children survivors grow up to have drug and alcohol problems, 80 percent, by age 21, have at least one psychological disorder, and 30 percent go on to abuse their own children. These statistics are from

Today’s column focuses on a situation that appears to be physical abuse, but other forms of childhood abuse, such as emotional abuse and child neglect are just as damaging. Childhood sexual abuse is the worst of all. —Lauren

Warning signs of child physical abuse (adapted from 

• Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts or cuts
• Injuries have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt
• Seems afraid or avoidant of going home
• Is watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen
• Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements
• Wears unseasonal clothing to hide injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days
• Or conversely, “accidentally on purpose” shows injuries without explaining them

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  1. By F.T., age 17, from Vacaville, CA on 07/14/2015

    I agree that you should report this.  I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago and did not report it and it still bothers me.  There was this girl I knew who never became a close friend but I did have her over for sleepovers a few times and when she undressed and my sister who I share a room with and I saw her nude, we could see bruises that looked like abuse.  We asked her what happened and she said she “fell down” but sometimes you can tell when somebody’s lying and we both could tell it was a lie.  And like the girl you describe she was very open about nudity in front of us and it actually seemed like she went out of her way to be nude when it wasn’t necessary like she wanted to make sure we saw her body.  We told our mom, but like your mom she said we should mind our own business and we could get sued if we were wrong. However, I now have learned that at least in California there’s a law that says you can’t be sued for reporting possible child abuse even if it turns out that you were wrong.

    She moved away after not too long and I don’t know what ever happened to her.  However, it still bothers me and I wish that I’d done something.


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  2. By R.L., age 16, from Carmichael, CA on 07/14/2015

    In my case I know for a fact that my sister has been abused and also know that she does not want me to tell, so what do I do?  We share a room and the bathroom so we can’t help but see each other nude and as sisters have never had any shyness about it.  Recently, I saw bruises on her body when she undressed and was nude in our room.  She admitted that her boyfriend did it when they had a fight, but they made up and he apologized and promised never to do it again.  She says it’s her business and I’d better not tell our mom and dad as they don’t like him in the first place and are sure to use this as an excuse to make her stop seeing him.  So I don’t have to wonder if she’s been abused and also don’t have to wonder if she wants me to tell. 

    On the one hand I understand that it’s really her business if she wants to make up with him and keep seeing him, but on the other hand you have to watch out for a guy like this as many don’t stop with abuse just one time, and I would feel really guilty if he did something worse to her.  While we see each other nude every day, our mom rarely sees us nude, so it won’t be hard for her to keep our mom from seeing the bruises so our parents won’t know unless I tell and my sister doesn’t want me to, so what should I do?


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    1. By K.D., age 17, from La Habra, California on 07/15/2015

      I’m in a very similar situation, but it’s my BFF.  She’s very shy about her body and I’m the only one she’s ever naked in front of.  She doesn’t have a sister who would see her naked and she’s so shy she doesn’t even let our other girlfriends see her naked or even in her underwear.  At slumber parties all of the rest of each other undress in front of each other with no shyness, while she changes in the bathroom.  So if I don’t tell her mom about the bruises her boyfriend gave her, her mom won’t know as her mom never sees her naked either.  Like R.L.‘s sister she doesn’t want me to tell because she doesn’t want to lose her boyfriend.  She has a low opinion of herself and is afraid she won’t be able to get another boyfriend.  She’s also confided in me that he’s pressured her into giving him oral sex. 

      If it was my own sister, I think I’d tell our mom.  We share a room so we see each other naked and I would certainly know if this was happening to her.  But I’m not sure that it’s my business to tell my BFF’s mom when she doesn’t want her to know, and it would risk our close friendship if I did tell.


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      1. By C.M., age 16, from Petaluma, CA on 07/16/2015

        It seems to me that if she really didn’t want you to tell her mom, she wouldn’t be letting you see the bruises either.  She manages to avoid anyone else seeing her nude, but still lets you see her but she could avoid you seeing her too if she really wanted to.  Maybe it’s only subconscious, but since she lets you see the bruises and tells you that her boyfriend did it, I think it’s likely a cry for help.  I would assume that you probably have sleepovers at her house like most best friends do.  You could do what has previously been recommended in Straight Talk and tip off her mom and then have a code word or phrase to let her know when your friend is nude and have her find an excuse to come in the room and see for herself and take you off the hook.  You say you would do this if was your own sister, and I think your BFF needs you to be like a sister to her under the circumstances.

        If it was my sister or BFF, I would certainly find a way to alert our mom or her mom.  Like your BFF, they are both shy about their bodies around anyone but me and I’m just about the only one who ever sees them completely nude so I would be the only one to see something like this and be able to tell someone.  Fortunately, I have not been in this position and hope it never happens, but I don’t think I could live with myself if I just kept my mouth shut even if they told me that they didn’t want me to tell.


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      2. By LAUREN, from on 07/20/2015

        K.D.— I agree with everything C.M. wrote. Thank you C.M.! You definitely should treat your BFF like a sister and I also agree that she could choose not to let you see the bruises, but she IS showing you. People subconsciously want help. Like C.M. says, use some kind of code so her mom finds out without you ever being exposed as the source if you don’t want to risk losing the friendship. You can tell her later if it seems appropriate.—Love, Lauren

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    2. By Emily, age 17, from Westminster, CA on 07/17/2015

      In my sister’s case, it was anorexia, not bruises, but the issue is really the same.  Like others I’ve read about when this was a topic in Straight Talk, with clothes on she just looked very thin, but not bad enough to raise concerns. However, when she was naked you could see how badly her body was wasting away.  As her sister who shared a room with her, I was the only one who saw her completely naked as she was very shy and wouldn’t even let her friends or even our mom see her, but as sisters who have always been close we were always comfortable with each other in this regard.  We also always shared the bathroom and that never was a problem for us either which made things easier for everybody since we only have one bathroom.  I couldn’t help but notice that she was almost never having bowel movements anymore which I know is very unhealthy, even though she had always been very “regular” in the morning before.

      She didn’t want me to tell our mom, so at first I didn’t.  However, it got so bad that she was literally skin and bones, I mean you could actually see her bones and that really scared me, so I finally told our mom.  She didn’t make my sister strip naked, but made her undress down to her bra and thong underwear which was all that was really necessary and our mom was totally shocked.  My sister broke down and said she knew she needed help but was afraid to ask for it and that she really wanted me to tell even though she told me that she didn’t and was grateful that I did.  Our mom had her go to a counselor to help with the emotional issues that led to this and to a nutritionist who put her on a healthy diet that our mom and I make sure she strictly adheres to, and she now is doing well.

      I’m really glad I finally told our mom, and my only regret is that I did not do it sooner.  I think it’s very clear that the girl M.T. is writing about is crying out for help by making sure that they see the bruises by letting them see her naked, so I sure hope that she does something to get help for her.


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      1. By Mary Beth, age 16, from Toledo, OH on 07/18/2015

        I also was anorexic and wanted someone to see and make me get help, but was too afraid to tell my mom.  I didn’t have a sister who would see me naked, just a brother and I obviously couldn’t let him see me (even though some sisters apparently do from what I’ve read in Straight Talk, but no way would I ever let him see me naked).  When I had sleepovers with my best friend I made sure that she and her sister saw me naked, but they never said anything and acted oblivious to my nudity.  However, one time their mom came in their room when I was naked.  She apologized for walking in on me, but I was actually glad that she saw me this way.  She told my mom who made me get help.  It turned out that my friend and my sister had noticed the problem (it would have been hard for them not to) and told their mom and found a way to signal her so that she could come in the room and see me as they thought it would be better for their mom to see and to talk to my mom.  I’m just glad that someone did so that I could get the help I badly needed.

        While the girl M.T. writes about has a different issue, it sure sounds like she wants help.  She says she talked to her mom, but not her stepmom who lives there.  She might feel differently and could be alerted to come in when this girl is undressed and then be able to do something based upon what she sees.

        Mary Beth

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    3. By LAUREN, from on 07/20/2015

      R.L.—This is the kind of boyfriend you WANT your sister broken up from. Please don’t wait another day to tell your parents. Abusers don’t tend to do things only one time and he will only spiral her self-esteem into the ground. This is what good sisters do for each other. Do it for you as well, so you DON’T have to worry about “what if’s”. You’ll sleep better at night. —Love, Lauren

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  3. By Melissa, age 16, from Medford, Oregon on 07/15/2015

    I believe that this girl is crying out for someone to see and to tell someone, and I speak from experience!  When I was the same age, I was being both sexually and physically abused by my stepfather.  My mom knew, but he was also abusing her and she was afraid to do anything.  I’m still working on trying to forgive her for this, but it’s not easy, as while the physical bruises are gone, the mental scars remain and I still have nightmares about it.

    I was afraid to say anything as I was afraid that it would make things even worse for me.  So even though I had always been very shy about my body, I let others see me nude whenever possible.  I even started taking communal showers after gym class which I’d always been way too shy to do, but was willing to deal with the embarrassment so that somebody might see.  I was naïve and thought that if people saw my privates they might be able to see I was being sexually abused.  That probably wasn’t possible, but they had to have seen the bruises on my body!  I also went out of my way to find ways to be nude in front of my best friend’s older sister who shared her room and even her mom thinking they would certainly notice and do something to help me, but nobody ever did even though I can’t believe that nobody ever noticed.

    My cry for help this way went unanswered, so I hope you will not let the same thing happen to this girl.  You and your stepsister may be the only ones seeing her nude and seeing the abuse, so if you do not do something, who will?

    My mom finally got the courage to leave my stepfather, but she was too afraid and humiliated to take legal action.  But even though he’s no longer with us physically and the physical damage has healed, the mental damage he did to me is still with me and I’m afraid that it always will be and it makes it very hard to have a relationship with a guy, even guys who are really nice and who I’m sure would never abuse me.


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    1. By LAUREN, from on 07/20/2015

      Melissa—Thank you for sharing. You make so many important points, one being that the “cry for help” of showing others the signs of distress isn’t always answered. I am so sorry for what happened to you. I urge you to see a counselor and work on healing the inner trauma so you can have a happy life and healthy relationships. You deserve it. Don’t hesitate to start this inner work anytime and know that no matter what age, new layers will appear and some phases of life are very ripe for healing. Your early 20s is one of those fruitful times for healing from childhood abuse, but don’t hesitate to start now if you can. Other ways besides talk therapy are very good, too. Yoga classes are a known trauma healer, as are equestrian experiences, choral singing, drama, and being in nature. I hope you get involved in one of these activities right away and stick with it!—Love, Lauren

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  4. By Judy, age 42, from Santa Rosa, California on 07/19/2015

    I totally agree that suspected child abuse must be reported.  My mother became and alcoholic after our father left us and took out her anger on my sister, my brother, and me.  For the smallest infraction and sometimes for things that she fabricated, she would make us strip and whip us with a leather belt.  We all had marks from the abuse that anyone who saw us undressed could not help but see.  We all had to share one bedroom which was an uncomfortable situation especially when we became teenagers, so I could clearly see the signs of abuse on my sister and brother when they were nude and they could see them on me, so anyone else could have easily seen that we clearly were being abused.  I’m not certain about our brother, but my sister and I would do as others have written and allow our friends and even their sisters and mothers to see us nude whenever possible in the hope that someone would report it and get us help, as we were too frightened to report our own mother as we feared that it would make the abuse even worse.  Based on my experience, I suspect that this girl that M.T. writes about is in the same position.  My sister is a family law attorney, and has confirmed that someone who reports suspected child abuse is immune from liability in California and most states even if an investigation does not find abuse.

    The mental scars from the abuse I suffered still have not healed, and I would never abuse my own children the way that I was abused.  My mother died from an alcohol related disease a few years ago, but I still am unable to forgive her.  I have told my teenage daughters that if they ever see signs of abuse in anyone to tell me and I will take the responsibility for reporting it.  Like most teenagers, they have sleepovers with friends in their room and are in other situations where they see other girls nude, so they are much more likely to see abuse than I am. 


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    1. By LAUREN, from on 07/20/2015

      Judy—Thank you for writing. Indeed, nowhere in the US can you be sued for reporting the suspicion of child abuse to. A report is not an accusation and children need people looking out for them as they are defenseless. I am so sorry for your wounds and hope you find healing eventually. What a beautiful thing that you have broken the pattern. Many wounded children make excellent parents and do NOT pass on the trauma, but some do… it’s another risk factor. As I said to Melissa, in addition to a good therapist, things like yoga classes and martial-arts are known trauma healers, as are equestrian experiences, choral singing, and being in nature. I hope you get involved in one of these activities right away and stick with it! I also recommend you read the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk MD. You will be so inspired to heal and learn about modalities that really work! Someday you may want to take a “med-vacation” and visit his trauma center and get into a healing program there.—Love, Lauren

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