Someone I Know is Being Abused. Should I Call the Police?

Someone I Know is Being Abused. Should I Call the Police?

by Alexander, a Hotline advocate

being abusedHere 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 the 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 an 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 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 are very important as well.

If you’re still struggling with how to support someone you know that’s experiencing abuse, you can check out, Help for Friends and Family Members. You can also reach out to one of our advocates by phone or chat, 24/7/365. Call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or chat by selecting the Chat Now button right here on our website. Chat en español 12-6 p.m. Hora Central.

Comment section

18 replies
  1. I live with my daughter and I belice she is being brainwashed and abused..iam there ti protect the child..from anymore abuse he has marks oñ his body..but I have no proof. Yet.but I witnessed him hit her.and the child..while he is hi on black smack..I don’t want the state to take him his grandmother us aware of this also and many other people.but no one will well I am but its gotta b secret..I don’t even have time to try and talk to her alone he is always around.. What should I do I have 2 strikes against me and I can’t do what people tell me I should and what I really want to do..all bad..prison time involved. How do I get her and her child away from him before I do something’.. Really stupid

  2. Freddie,

    Thank you for reaching out to us today. That sounds like such a difficult thing to see someone that you love experience, and it is completely natural to feel angry about that. It sounds like she is in a very serious and complex situation. We do know that it is important to be cautious about approaching someone in an abusive relationship to avoid creating a more dangerous situation. We would love to talk through this situation with you and help you find some healthy and strategic options for supporting your daughter through this. Feel free to call us 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or chat with us online between 7am-2am CT.

    Take Care,


  3. Please help me understand how law works these days. I have been in rlationship fo 8 years, 5 of which are legal marriage. Everything started getting worse and worse, but gradually. It is now got to the point when friends and family tell me to simply bolt. My husband is beyond secretive, he forced his way out from his job, predicting it few months prior, not looking for any other jobs seems like on purpose, and we have 3 minors snd in bankruptcy (13), he’s getting more and more physical, verbally abusive, but also harrassing and stalking me on the level i never thought exists. Cops give no shit about repeated 911 calls. They marked our residence as “eehhh, here we go again”, “will be there next week”. My spouse is so good on putting innocent mask on that cops are often budge with him. They tell me then if i want press charges and when i do – they dont. I end up all alone with psycho and chameleon once cops are gone and thats where we end. Until another episode. We both agreed to get divorced, but now he is saying NO. PARDON ME, but WTF? Im not an angel, but i do not cause self-inflicted injuries. He does. Right after he attacks me. Inwas suggested to go to the chief of the PD, or straight to DA; however, it will take few more days for bruises to develop from the day before yesterday. I do see defensive wounds on my fingers already. I can’t afford attorney with 3-4к retainer. My family is not suportive, and most of it overseas. What DO I DO????? Please give advice. Thank you!!!!

  4. Polina,

    Wow it sounds like you are going through so much! You never deserve to be abused in any way, whether physically or emotionally, and from what you are saying, it sounds like you’ve been experiencing a lot of both.

    From what we know about abusive behavior, it is all about power and control. So often people with abusive behaviors are very charismatic or skilled manipulators as a way to maintain that control. From your description, it seems like this is exactly what’s going on each time you contact the police. Especially if he is self-inflicting wounds and gaslighting you(pretending that nothing happened), then that is very manipulative behavior. So I completely understand how you feel scared and stressed.

    Also, I am so sorry to hear that law enforcement has not been helpful for you and instead have almost hindered things. Too often that has been a complaint in DV situations, so you are definitely not alone. As far as what to do legally, we are not legal advocates, so I can’t say for sure. However, we would definitely be happy to find you a legal advocate in your area or a DV center that might be better able to help you regarding that.

    If you’d like to get a local legal resource from us, or if you’d just like to discuss options and talk about what you are going through, I would definitely encourage you to contact us directly. We are always here 24/7 by phone at 1-800-799-7233 or 7am-2amCT through our chat in the right corner at https://www.thehotline.org/

    Stay Safe,
    Advocate KB

  5. Hello Tawanda,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you have not gotten the help you need. You absolutely deserve support. We would be happy to help you explore other options and resources. Please give us a call any time at 1-800-799-7233 or chat live here on our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

  6. My sister is in a horrible situation physical and mental abuse. I had not seen the extent of the situation but today I got to see it. I was able to step in a fight it off. However I do not know how to help her if she does not want to help herself, if I keep on stepping in and she keeps on going back. I am in need of advice and do not know where to go. Can anyone help?

  7. Hello rosal,

    This sounds so scary, and it’s very brave of you to reach out on behalf of your sister. We would be happy to help in any way we can. Please call us at 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat here on our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

  8. I am 14 years old, and 2 female friends (13 years old) of mine have been smacked or punched by their fathers respectively. I do not know how long this has been happening, but It sounds like it has been happening for a very long time. I am specifically worried about my friend (who I have made up an anonymous name for) #1. Yesterday, me and #1 and #2, who also has been abused by her dad, were in a group on a field trip with our music department and we went to an amusement park and we all had a lot of fun, me and #1 holding hands on the highest ride with the sun setting in the distance. But very close to when to busses were going arrive, #1’s dad came (and I was turned around for a couple seconds) and grabbed her by the arm and was literally dragging her away. If you looked closely, you would’ve seen the muscles straining on his arm. #2 and I ran around looking for the choir teacher who kept track of the sign out sheet, and she said that #1 wasn’t signed out by anyone. So I told #2 that, and she was upset. As we walked back to the busses outside the amusement park, I gave #2 a number to an anonymous therapist, both for her and #1 because she and her dad had gotten into an argument earlier that day, and her dad said “We’ll discuss this later.” witnessed by #1 who watched as #2’s father smacked #1 twice. I asked my people at home what to do (one of them had been in a situation a lot similar but worse to this one) but they had no clue, suggesting I talk to my school counselor in anonymity like I decided to do now. I also have a few questions. What happens if we involve the cops? Would they believe us? If so, where would #1 and #2 stay if the fathers get put in jail? What can I do? When should we get help from either the cops or our school? I would really appreciate a response, and thank you.

  9. oh a type o, when #2’s father smacked #1 twice, I meant #2’s father smacked #2 twice

  10. Hi Willy,

    This sounds like a scary situation, and you’re very brave to want to help your friends. Here at The Hotline, we focus on abuse between intimate partners, so we may not be the best resource for you. Since your friends are under 18, you might consider contacting ChildHelp’s child abuse hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453). In the meantime, you can help by continuing to be a supportive friend, which doesn’t sound like much but is actually really important! We’ve got some tips for supporting a friend who is being abused. Although these tips were written for helping friends in abusive intimate relationships, some of these tips can definitely apply to your situation.

  11. A friend of mine’s family always call him worthless, fat and ugly, and I’ve seen it for myself. He was anorexic, and now he is again because his family always puts him down and calls him fat, when he’s underweight. Yesterday, his mother hit him, and I’m very worried for his wellbeing. I can’t tell school counselors, and I can’t really get help from my parents, because they have never liked him and see him as manipulative and a liar. Please, someone help, what do I do?

  12. Hi Taryn,

    It’s so hard to watch someone we care about experience abuse, and you’re very brave to reach out for help. Here at The Hotline, we focus on abuse between intimate partners, so we might not be the best resource for you. You might consider contacting the national child abuse hotline at 1-800-422-4453 (www.childhelp.org), or encouraging your friend to do so. You can also continue to be a supportive friend, which might not sound like much, but it’s very important for someone who is being abused to have a support system. You can check out some tips for supporting your friend on our and family page – many of these tips can apply to your situation.

  13. [Admin note: This comment has been edited for safety per our community guidelines.]
    This may seem a bit weird but I’m reaching out because I’m worried about a friend I know, he doesn’t reside in the same country as me. I have evidence of him being abused. Abused in context not sexually but physically yes, such as strangling and punching. The teenager has no one to talk to as previously when he tried to do so his mother was domestically violated. His father is doing this to him. Additionally, he has no one to turn to and I’m worried because often he would say “I’d rather die” or another phrase “I want to die.” I’m deeply concerned. He doesn’t speak to anyone about it as he does not want to get his father in prison or any situation as he has 3 younger siblings and is concerned about their future. Is there anything I can do?

  14. Thank you for your message to The Hotline. I am sorry about everything that you have gone through–it sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot! For privacy and confidentiality reasons, we don’t provide advocacy via DM, but I’d love for you to get in touch with our advocates so you can talk things through and find ways in which we can support you! You are also welcome to call or chat with us anytime – we’d be happy to help you come up with some options for you. Our number is 1-800-799-7233 and our website http://www.thehotline.org Our chat is also available 24/7/365. I hope this helps. Please take good care of yourself.
    The Hotline Admin

  15. Hello,

    This comment is for Polina. I hope you’re safe now.

    I know someone who was also married for 5 years, together total of 8 with their partner. We lost her to domestic violence in 2017.

    I really hope you’re safe now dear, a few years down the line.

Comments are closed.

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