Tips for Intervening If You Witness Domestic Violence

Yellow background with a graphic of a grey eye and the words Witnessing Domestic Violence

Tips for Intervening If You Witness Domestic Violence

Yellow background with a graphic of a grey eye and the words Witnessing Domestic ViolenceMore than 12 million people in the U.S. are affected by domestic violence each year. While domestic violence typically happens behind closed doors, in some cases it does happen in a public space or around friends or family members, meaning that other people may witness or be aware of the abuse. When we overhear or see something that doesn’t feel right, it can be difficult to know how to react. So, here are some tips and suggestions for what you might do to intervene and interrupt that violence.


If you witness abuse in public, it’s important to take into account your own safety as well as the survivor’s. There is safety in numbers, so gathering a group of people to stand nearby and either verbally or physically intervene is one option. Contacting the authorities is another option. You might even record the incident with your phone to pass to law enforcement if the survivor chooses to press charges (keep in mind, however, that some survivors choose not to take legal action).

If you’re hearing suspicious noises from your neighbors, one option is to speak with the survivor in person the next day. You might greet them with a question like, ”Hey, I heard some stuff last night. Are you okay?” Make sure to approach them in a safe, private space, listen to them carefully and believe what they have to say. Never blame them or ask what they did to “provoke” their partner. Let them know the abuse isn’t their fault, and that they deserve support. You might give them The Hotline’s contact information or direct them to a local crisis line. If you are ever concerned for the survivor’s immediate safety (or your own), you do have the right to contact the police. If the survivor decides to press charges against the abusive partner, your statement can be one way to help them document what they’ve experienced.

At The Hotline, we often hear from family members who want to physically remove the survivor from the abusive partner because they won’t leave themselves. We strongly discourage doing this because that action, like the abuse, encroaches on the survivor’s autonomy. It’s understandable to want to step in and take care of someone you love, but it is important to remember that they are the only person who can decide what is right for them; this is a choice they must make on their own. Abuse is so difficult to witness, but you can’t “save” them or “fix” the situation. The hardest thing to realize is that even with your help, some people won’t ever leave the relationship, and they do have the right to make that choice. You also have the right to express your concern, offer support, ask them to talk about a safety plan with you, and refer them to those who can help.

But, with all of that being said, it’s still important to have hope. On average, it takes domestic violence survivors seven times to leave the relationship for good, so if it’s physically and emotionally safe for you, try to continue offering support in any way you can. Believing and supporting them can be a major factor in helping them stay safe or helping them find empowerment to leave when they’re ready.

Is someone you know experiencing relationship abuse? We’re here to help! Call 1-800-799-7233 (24/7) or chat here on our website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time.

Comment section

16 replies
  1. I would like to know if there are any support groups for parents of abused adult children in Long Island, NY. Thank you

    1. Hi Gladys,
      Our advocates have a comprehensive list of national resources. I’d love for you to get in touch with them. They are here 24/7/365. You can call at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing). You can also chat Click the “Chat Now” button to begin a chat. Our website is http://www.thehotline.org I hope this helps.

  2. I have witnessed my grandson’s father hit and pull a gun on my daughter. I have also witnessed my daughter drink and do drugs and neglect to take care of her son. Here is with me at the moment, she just drops him off and I don’t hear from her until She decides she wants him back! I want to know how to get custody of my grandson as both of his parents are abusive and use drugs and sell drugs out of their homes. Please Help!
    D

    1. Hi D,
      Wow, I can’t even imagine how overwhelming this must all be for you. This sounds so scary and we know when an abusive partner has access to firearms, statistics show that domestic violence is more likely to turn deadly. It’s such a big step to reach out for support, and I’m so glad you contacted us via this comment. Our advocates might be able to provide you with more resources like safety planning or simply how to be supportive when someone you love is being abused. We are here via phone or chat, 24/7/365. Please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing) to talk to one of our advocates. You can also chat Click the “Chat Online Now” button to begin a chat. Help is free and confidential. I hope this helps!
      Best,
      Hotline Admin

  3. I have witnessed my grandson’s father hit and pull a gun on my daughter. I have also witnessed my daughter drink and do drugs and neglect to take care of her son. Here is with me at the moment, she just drops him off and I don’t hear from her until She decides she wants him back! I want to know how to get custody of my grandson as both of his parents are abusive and use drugs and sell drugs out of their homes. Please Help!

    1. Hy Donyella,
      Thanks for reaching out to The Hotline. I am so sorry to hear you are going through this at home. For privacy and confidentiality reasons, we usually don’t answer questions about relationships over here, but I’d like to invite you to get in touch with our advocates at The Hotline so they can help talk about the issues you are sharing with us. They might be able to provide you with more resources if needed. You can call at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing). You can also chat Click the “Chat Now” button to begin a chat. Our website is http://www.thehotline.org I hope this helps. Please be careful and take care of yourself.
      Best,
      The Hotline Admin.

  4. Bonjour svp j’ai besoin d’aide je suis rentrée dans le pays cause de mon époux mais le problème qui se pose il a 2grands fils qui vivent à la maison l’aine ne veut pas me voir car je suis trop jeune pour son papa il m’a promis de me tuée ma vie est en danger j’avais peur d’appeler la police hier soir il m’a insulte beaucoup son père n’a rien dit alors ma vie est vraiment en danger aide moi je veux laisser la maison car son fils est très violent il a été en prison pendant 3fois cause violence conjugale

    1. Bonjour Cassamajor,
      Je suis désolé d’entendre votre situation à la maison. Je peux dire à quel point vous êtes concerné! Veuillez nous appeler au 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Nous avons une ligne de langue que nous pourrions peut-être vous parler en français. J’espère que ça aide!
      Merci

    1. Hi Christine,
      I am so sorry to hear about your situation. Please call our advocates at The Hotline. We try not to respond to these questions online for privacy reasons, but if you give them a call they might be able to help you. Please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing) to talk to one of our advocates. Help is free, confidential and 24/7. You can also chat Click the “Chat Online Now” button to begin a chat. I hope this helps!
      Best,
      The Hotline Admin.

    1. Hi Christine,
      Please call our advocates at The Hotline. They have a lot of resources and information and they might be able to help in this situation. We try not to respond to these questions online for privacy reasons, but if you give them a call they might be able to help you. Please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing) to talk to one of our advocates. Help is free, confidential and 24/7/365. You can also chat Click the “Chat Online Now” button to begin a chat. I hope this helps!
      Best,
      The Hotline Admin.

  5. I wanted to leave my relationship within one year of my arranged marriage, but couldn’t still even after 13 years of marriage. I am a housewife, with no parent, siblings, or property. I have an 11-year-old daughter. How can I proceed to remove abusive husband from our life, while still maintaining a growthful life for myself and my daughter?

    1. Hi P,
      I am so sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds incredibly difficult. I wonder if you are currently in the United States?

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