With special contribution from Brandy, a Hotline advocate
If 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 at any time or chat live via our website 24/7/365.
*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.