Reporting to Police: Options & Tips for Being Prepared

Graphic on a teal background of the silhouette of a police officer in grey with a white police badge on the chest

Reporting to Police: Options & Tips for Being Prepared

With special contribution from Brandy, a Hotline advocate

police-responseIf you or someone you care about is being abused, you may feel that contacting the police is one important step in your safety plan. We’ve seen that police intervention can be life-saving and can help survivors get connected to other resources. But we also know there are very real barriers for some survivors in contacting the police. In our 2015 law enforcement survey, survivors told us they were afraid calling the police might result in losing privacy, being stereotyped, having an abusive partner retaliate or negatively affecting their children.

We believe it’s important for all survivors to feel as prepared as possible if they choose to contact the police. The information below is meant to be a general primer for speaking with police and making a report, but keep in mind that people’s experiences may vary and your personal safety is the priority. You know your situation best; you do not have to take any actions that you believe would jeopardize your safety.

Talking with Police

When you are speaking with police about a domestic violence situation, there are a few things that can be helpful to keep in mind:

  • First of all, try to remain calm. People react to fear and trauma in many ways. You always have the right to your feelings, and it’s understandable to be upset, angry or crying. But breathing deeply and trying to calmly answer any questions will help the police more effectively intervene.
  • Be as straightforward as you can be when discussing the situation. For example, an officer might ask, “What happened tonight?” If your partner hit you, tell them where they hit you and how, and show them photos, injuries or other evidence if you have it. If your partner threatened you, tell them how they threatened you and if there was a witness. Try not to minimize your fear; tell them if you are afraid your partner will hurt or kill you. By telling the police the complete truth, without downplaying or leaving out details, you let them know that you intend to cooperate with the investigation, and that can go a long way.
  • If the police are responding to your home and/or your abusive partner is present, tell them you want to be interviewed separately from your partner.
  • We understand that those who are not proficient English speakers and/or who are undocumented face specific concerns around calling the police, like language barriers, fear of deportation, and/or not understanding their legal rights and options. Regardless of your legal status, domestic violence is a crime, and you have the right to safety and support. Visit Casa de Esperanza to learn more.
  • You do NOT have to sign any documents you don’t understand or cannot read.
  • Tell the police about any firearms your partner may own, and/or if your partner has threatened, harassed or injured you previously with a firearm. [Check out this post for more information on safety planning around firearms.]
  • Tell the police as soon as possible if: your partner has warrants; your partner uses an alias and you know their real name; you have a restraining order against your partner; your partner has a weapon such as a gun or a knife; your partner has strangled/choked you. This information can help police officers determine what kind of crime has occurred and the lethality of the situation.
  • Ask the officer is there is a domestic violence unit or victim service advocate connected to the police force. You can also ask the officer(s) for contact information for a local crisis center. If the police are coming to your home, you can tell them you want to call for services or help while they are present.

It can be heartbreaking to feel as though you’re getting your partner in trouble with the law. It’s important to remember in these scenarios that you are taking these actions for your safety, not because you want your partner to be arrested.

Other Options for Making a Report

If you are in an emergency situation and call 9-1-1, you may have the opportunity to file a report with the responding officers. However, there are other options for making a report that may feel safer for you. If possible, you may want to consider:

  • Directly contacting the Victim Services Unit* or Special Crimes Unit for your local police department, if available
  • Calling a domestic violence service to see if you can meet an officer at the local shelter or service
  • Going to a hospital or police station to make the report

Consider bringing a supportive friend or family member with you if you go to make a report, especially if that person has witnessed the violence or abuse and/or can corroborate your experience. Some domestic violence services may be able to arrange an advocate to support you during this process. Chat or give us a call to see which services are available in your area.

What You Can Do If the Police Have Not Helped

All survivors deserve to be believed and supported while planning next steps. If you have contacted the police and not received the help you need, here are some additional steps you can take:

  • Talk with a local crisis center/shelter to see how they can help. Many domestic and sexual violence services have developed relationships with law enforcement and can help you navigate that system.
  • Ask to speak with a supervisor or commanding officer within your local police department. Again, you can also ask if there is a Victim Services Unit or victim advocate associated with the police department.
  • Learn more about your legal rights and find legal help in your area. This can help you continue to advocate for yourself. Womenslaw.org is a good place to start.

Our advocates understand that every person’s situation is different, and you must make the decisions that feel right for you. While we are not legal advocates and cannot give specific legal advice, we can help you locate legal resources in your area and brainstorm other options for safety. Call 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat live via our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central.

 

*The Hotline’s 2015 survey found that there are key things police officers are doing that help survivors: validating their experiences, providing appropriate referrals, helping start the protective order process and arresting and/or charging the abuser. Some states are taking on new training and programs designed to implement these types of survivor-centered practices. For example, SAFVIC is a Texas-wide program that offers optional, free and accredited training for officers about Sexual Assault and Family Violence Investigations, including in-depth information about restraining orders and trauma-informed approaches. This program or other programs like it are often fully or partially funded by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), including the addition of Victim Service Units in some police departments. These units often contain officers who have specialized training in IPV and social workers who can connect survivors with support services.

Comment section

16 replies
  1. [Admin note: This comment has been edited for safety per our community guidelines]

    The cops don’t care if you have been abused. They told me I deserved it. Sometimes it is better to just accept it.

    1. Hello Margaret,

      We are so sorry to hear that you have not gotten the support you need. You never deserve to be abused, no matter what. We would like to help you in any way we can. Whenever you feel ready to reach out, please contact us at 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat here on the website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

  2. I have call the cops several time and they just don’t seem to care. I’m yet to receive any help. After talking to them I was left to feel like it was my fault, as if they didn’t believe me inspire of all the brushes and scratches I had. I’m tired of feeling like its my fault I will never call them again. I give up. I’m just tired of living like this.

    1. Hi Nat,

      We’re so sorry to hear that you have not received the help and support you need. You are absolutely not at fault for the abuse. We would like to help you in any way we can, possibly by brainstorming some other options or resources for your situation. If you feel safe doing so, I encourage you to call us at 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat live here on our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

  3. [Admin note: This comment has been edited for safety in accordance to our community guidelines]

    Last Saturday night my husband took my cellphone so I was unable to call 911. I however did go onto [the] Police Department (I think) and made a complaint. To this day, I have heard nothing regarding my issues.

    The following day I informed my husband that I in fact made a formal complaint online, due to his abusive behavior. After I informed him of this action, he left the house and went straight to the Sheriff”s Department and filed a domestic violence report against me. I did not ask the full details, because I know nothing happened THAT I DID for him to CONTACT THE SHERIFF. I had taken my sleeping pills (due to insomnia) and went to bed. It had been an horrible day. I have 5 dogs, one of which stays in the house with me. I woke up to banging horrifically on the front door with a lot of force. It scared me as well as my dog. The pounding on the door sounded violent, so barely awake, I thought to myself, he has a key (as I thought this to be my husband).

    Come to find out today, my husband informed me that he went to the Sheriff’s Department and made a report. I asked a report for WHAT. He then showed me to tiny marks on his knuckles where he said I hit him with a lamp, which is untrue. I do believe if anyone was hit with a lamp, they would at least show more abrasions. In any event, he stated I also hit him on top of the head. He is close to 6 feet and I am 5 3″. I know this also not to be true. He had told me a few days before that he hit the top of his head with a NAIL, while in the addict cleaning the water from our air conditioning system. I have looked high and low for the complaint I filed online the night before, Can you help me find this? Also, what happens when a spouse files a report stating non factual happenings? Will I get in trouble, even thought the night before it was me who made the initial complaint?

    Thanks for your time.

    1. Hi Becky,

      This sounds like such a frustrating and scary situation. We would like to help you in any way we can. While we are not legal advocates, we may be able to locate some resources in your area that can help you out, or discuss some other options to try. Please give us a call at 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat live here on our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

  4. My now ex-wife was very abusive. She was often violent in the house, would hit me, and on occasion would threaten to kill me. Though the police did take her into custody several times (and transported her to the ER/psych hospital), they were mostly not helpful. She was never arrested. The police officers would tell me to stop calling as they were tired of getting involved in our “marriage disputes”.

    When I finally had the courage to escape to our local domestic violence shelter, they would not help “because minor children were involved.” They told me that I had to go to the courthouse on my own to file for a restraining order. Needless to say, I didn’t have the emotional strength to wander around the courthouse that day.

    1. Hi Ben,

      I’m so sorry to hear that your wife was abusive to you and that you have not been able to find the support you need. It takes so much courage to reach out for help, and it can be very disheartening when you are dismissed by the people who are supposed to help. Abuse is not a “marriage dispute,” and you deserve support. We are here to help in any way we can, and I encourage you to give us a call any time at 1-800-799-7233 or chat here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central.

    1. Hi Angela,

      You are welcome to chat live here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time – just click on the live chat button at the top of this page. If texting is your only option, you can contact loveisrespect (our project for youth and young adults) by texting loveis to 22522. We hope to hear from you soon.

  5. I do not feel safe my husband is making me scared. I can not even have friends and I have children’s with him. He even put spy on me to be knowing what I do. Is there a way I could leave him

    1. Hi Emily,

      Thank you for your comment. You deserve to feel safe and secure with your partner, not scared and unsafe. We’d like to help you in any way we can, whether that’s helping to create a safety plan or locating resources in your area. If you feel safe and ready to do so, please contact us directly by calling 1-800-799-7233 (24/7) or chat here on our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

  6. Is there advice for reporting suspected abuse in another person’s home? I’m not sure if there’s abuse going on in my neighbor’s apartment, but I hear fights that sound troubling. I’m not sure if or how I should report my suspicions.

    1. Hi Allie,

      Thanks for your comment! It’s difficult to know what to do if you suspect that someone is being abused. We’d be happy to talk through the situation with you and help determine some options moving forward. Call us anytime at 1-800-799-7233 or chat here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.

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