This post was contributed by Alexander, a Hotline advocate
Here at The Hotline, we have conversations with family members, friends, coworkers and caring neighbors about what to do when someone they know is being abused. Knowing that someone in your life is being hurt is really difficult, and it’s normal to feel unsure about how to best approach this challenging situation. Many people feel like calling the police can be a way to help. In a moment of a crisis, it’s natural to want to reach out for support from local law enforcement; however, you may be surprised to hear that it’s not always the best response for an individual in an abusive relationship. Let’s examine several perspectives to figure out what the safest course of action could be to help support a person that you’re concerned about.
Before calling the police, consider these key points:
- If a person experiencing abuse has not created a safety plan with you about when to contact police on their behalf, doing so without the person’s consent can limit their opportunities to make choices based on what they personally know to be most beneficial to support their safety and well-being.
- The person experiencing abuse may not be in a place to speak honestly with law enforcement about the abuse. If law enforcement does show up, it might be safest for the person being abused to deny or downplay the abuse, particularly if the abusive individual is present.
- Having police involved could upset the abusive partner. When the police leave, the abuser might harm their partner more because police were involved.
- The police might not believe that abuse is happening. It’s common that the abusive partner will lie or manipulate the situation to police to get them to go away.
- The abusive partner might have connections to the police department. This can create a very difficult situation for the victim because the abusive partner is in a position of power outside of the relationship.
- If the victim is in a LGBTQ relationship, the police might hold the common (though incorrect) belief that abuse isn’t possible in these types of relationships.
One thing we always encourage is being mindful and respectful of what the person who is experiencing abuse wants in their situation. In an abusive relationship, the victim rarely (if ever) has their wishes or boundaries respected. Honoring boundaries and being respectful of what the victim wants can be a great way to show them what a healthy and supportive relationship looks like. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that it is not your responsibility to rescue someone or “fix” their situation. A person who is in an abusive relationship has the right to decide if/when they leave and how, and there are many reasons why a person might stay in an abusive relationship.
Aside from calling the police, there are many other ways you can help someone who is in an abusive relationship. Below are some alternative ways to help someone experiencing abuse:
- If you are a person the victim knows and trusts, talk to the victim about what they want. Try to find a safe time and place to speak with them (away from the abusive partner) and ask how you can best support them. They may not be ready or able to discuss the abuse with you; if this is the case, just let them know that you are there to support them in any way you can.
- Every time you hear abuse happening, keep a journal about the events. Mark the day it happens, the time it happens and what you heard or witnessed. This record can provide evidence if the victim does choose to approach law enforcement.
- Help the victim create a safety plan when you’re able to find a safe time and place to communicate. You can always contact one of our advocates to help you brainstorm.
- If you live next to the person and hear abuse happening, you could knock on the door and ask to borrow an item as a way to interrupt what’s happening.
- Reach out to a local or state domestic violence agency. Learn more about what abuse can look like, understand what the victim is going through and get more information on how you can offer support.
- If you live in a community with communal areas, like a mail room or laundry room, posting a flyer from The Hotline with contact information could be a way to help a person experiencing abuse reach out for support. You can click HERE to print contact information for The Hotline.
While we know that calling the police may not always be the safest option for a victim, there could be circumstances in which it might be necessary, for example, if the the victim is in imminent physical danger. Keep in mind that if at any point you personally feel in danger or unsafe, you have every right to contact police for yourself. Your personal safety and well-being is very important as well.
If you’re still struggling with how to support someone you know that’s experiencing abuse, you can check out our page on Help for Friends and Family Members. You can also reach out to one of our advocates by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) any time or chat online with us from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST.