Domestic violence is at truly epidemic proportions in the United States, and most statistics indicate that 25% of women, or one out of four, will be abused at some point in her life. Domestic violence takes a huge impact on self esteem and family life. It can be extraordinarily damaging to children, and life threatening for the victim. If you witness domestic violence, or suspect domestic violence, do not take the problem lightly. It won’t go away on its own, and ignoring the issue is precisely the wrong thing to do. Here’s what you can do instead:
If You Witness a Domestic Violence Assault
If you witness a domestic violence assault in public, odds are high that much worse things are happening to the victim behind closed doors. You have a moral obligation to get the victim help, but you also need to protect your own safety. Further, intervening in a way that makes the abuser feel powerless or bullied is actually likely to increase the abuse and may quickly lead to a deadly situation. The first step you can take is to call the police. Do this before you do anything else, because it ensures that if things escalate, help will already be on its way. Be sure to get any identifying information in case the abuser or his victim leaves the scene, including physical description, license plate, vehicle color, and specific location.
After you’ve called the police, one of the most helpful things you can do is attempt to de-escalate the attack. Don’t do this by jumping into the middle, though, or you’ll make it worse and risk your own safety. Instead, consider honking your horn or doing something else to draw attention to the act. If you can draw a crowd and the abuser no longer feels like he has privacy to abuse his victim, the attack is more likely to stop. If you absolutely must intervene, proceed with extreme caution, and be mindful of the fact that intervening in an isolated area may be fatal to you or the victim. If the area is more public, it may be safer, but intervening in domestic violence assaults is always risky.
If You Suspect Domestic Violence
If you suspect a friend or neighbor may be being abused, the situation can be difficult to assess. If you’re close to your neighbor, try asking her about it when her husband or boyfriend is not around. Read up on domestic violence and offer to attend a support group with her. Respect her decision if she does not want to leave. Many abuse victims accurately believe that they may be safer if they stay with the abuser for the short term. If you pressure your friend to do something she is not yet comfortable with, you may only alienate her.
If you hear an argument escalating out of control and are not sure, but suspect some sort of violence, the risks of not doing anything far outweigh the risks of intervening. Call the police. Explain that you are hearing loud fighting and you suspect domestic violence. In doing so, you help to establish a record that may help to keep the victim safe should she decide to leave or press charges.
Domestic violence situations can be terrifying, and there is no surefire recipe to diffuse them or help the victim. By educating yourself about domestic violence, you increase your likelihood of being helpful. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has some amazing resources at their website here.