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

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

This post was contributed by Alexander, an advocate at The Hotline/loveisrespect

Here at loveisrespect, we have conversations with family members, friends, coworkers, classmates 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 tough, 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 someone in an abusive relationship. Let’s look at a few 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 the 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 ability to make choices based on what they know to be best for their own 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 that’s being abused to deny or downplay the abuse, particularly if the abusive partner 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 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:

  • If you are a person the victim knows and trusts, talk to them 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 ever decides to approach the police.
  • Help the victim create a safety plan when you’re able to find a safe time and place to communicate. You can always call, chat or text with 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 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 loveisrespect with contact information could be a way to help a person experiencing abuse reach out for support. You can click HERE to print materials from loveisrespect.

While we know that calling the police may not always be the safest option for a victim, there could be situations 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 who’s experiencing abuse, we’re here to help. Call, chat or text with us any time!

Comment section

13 replies
    1. Hi Desiree,

      Thank you for reaching out. It is really painful to see someone being treated with abuse. If you would like to know more about supporting someone we have a page on supporting others here. Also, you are always welcomed to contact us via chat, text, or phone to talk about it. Take care

      LIR Advocate LC

  1. This advice is disturbing. If a woman is acreaming someine please help me and no one calls the police that’s insane. I think it is good to know these could be the real consequences but advising not calling because of them is not fair to the witness, the victim or any kids. Interrupting a violent argument could get a neighbor killed. I advice trust your gut and conscience when deciding whether and when to call police.

    1. L Johnson,

      Thank you for voicing your concern. We appreciate all feedback. In the specific situation that you provided as an example, where the victim is screaming “someone please help me,” it is clear here that the person being abused is asking for assistance. We are by no means saying never call the police, and in this case where assistance is being requested, that is a scenario where calling the police may be helpful. However, in many domestic violence situations, the victim does not scream “someone please help me” and may not want police involvement for a variety of valid reasons. From what we know, calling the police when this has not been requested by the person being abused, can and frequently does put the victim in more danger. These tips are not meant to set a black and white rule, but rather are intended to be educational so that people have more tools to employ in making their own judgments when confronted with a domestic violence situation.
      If you would like to speak with us directly, please contact us at 1-866-331-9474 or through chat at http://www.loveisrespect.org Our advocates are available 24/7.

  2. What advice would you give to a male in an abusive situation where the laws if not law of averages favors the woman who is typically the abused person?

    1. Hi Mark,

      Abuse can be experienced by anyone regardless of their background, class, race, and gender. Your gender identity doesn’t change the fact that abuse is traumatic and you deserve to have the resources you need to navigate your situation. Since dating abuse laws can vary by state and area, it may help to contact us via chat, text, or phone. We can connect you with a local resource to help you find legal help knowledgeable in your area. Also, I want to let you know about the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s page on male survivors here. We are reachable 24/7 by chat, at 1-866-331-9474 if you would like to reach out.

      Take care,

      LIR Advocate

  3. My son is in an abusive relationship (emotionally as well as physically). This is very unfamiliar territory for my family and it is very taxing on all of us. It is so apparent to all of us that he needs to get out but, he thinks that he can change her. It is getting harder and harder to serve as a sounding board as we watch the abuse escalate but he refuses to allow the law to intervene. We continue to offer the home as a safe haven and we continually try to remain uplifting and always attempt to boost his morale however, I see him self destructing. It is taking a toll on all of us and the fear I live with is compromising my daily responsibilities. How can we help him? He is in way over his head with this! He doesn’t understand that she is incapable of love and he cannot save someone from them self.

    1. Hi Tina,

      We are so glad that you’ve found us and our online community. It takes courage to share your experiences and reach out for support. I can hear how concerned you are for your son and we understand how difficult it is to see someone you care about being abused, especially by someone they care about. Abusive relationships aren’t something that are often talked about and I don’t think anyone feels prepared for a situation like this. You might find this webpage helpful, Get Help For Someone Else, especially the section, Help Your Child. It sounds like you and your family are doing everything you can to be there for him. It can be so difficult to figure out how to support him when hearing about is experiences is so scary and hurtful for you.

      It sounds like you’re thinking about possibly setting boundaries to protect yourself and your family and, while that can be such a hard thing to do, it’s so important to also think about your safety and well-being. Just as your son cannot change his partner, you and your family members cannot change your son. No one can make him recognize the abuse until he is ready. Until then, it sounds like he has a loving and supportive family and that can make such a difference in his experiences. It might be really helpful to think about strategies to take care of yourself during this incredibly scary and stressful time. Connecting with friends and spending time doing things you enjoy can be useful ways to combat the stress. If you’d like to brainstorm more self-care ideas or talk about possible boundaries, please reach out to us anytime, 24/7. You can reach us by phone (1.866.331.9474), online chat and text (text: loveis to 22522).

      We’re here for you!

      LIR Advocate AS

  4. My best friend is in an abusive relationship and she lives too far away for me to physically help her. What should I do? I’m too worried about her to just leave it be! It’s so hard because her abuser is her neighbor, too and he’s mentally unstable/unpredictable. Please help me to rectify the situation! Thank you for being able to support people in these kinds of situations. May god bless your souls.

    1. Hi Charles,

      Thank you for reaching out bravely and finding our material resourceful. It can be extremely stressful and alarming to know that someone you care about is being abused, so it absolutely makes sense you are concerned about this.

      Unfortunately, she is the only one who knows her situation best, so it is hard to say what you should do specifically for her(especially as you said being far away). However, the fact that you are trying to give her support and validation is already a huge thing for her safety and well-being.

      She deserves to be safe, so maybe you could encourage her to reach out to us directly so that we might talk about possible options, safety plans, and maybe even give local DV resources in her area? We also encourage you to reach out to us to talk more in depth through the chat on our homepage, by texting loveis to 22522 or by phone 1-866-331-9474. We are here 24/7!

      Best Wishes,
      Advocate KB

  5. My mom is in a very abusive relationship and has been for 18 years the abuse got so bad that practically all of my mom’s children hate her for the abuse they suffered by their step dad which is my actual dad. I’m 15 and I haven’t seen my older brother or sister since I was 6 and the reason why is because they left since they couldn’t handle the abuse. My siblings have been telling my mom to leave my dad for over a decade and she still hasn’t. She says that she will but i’m starting to resent my mom because i’ve been abused so much that I can’t be happy and my younger siblings who are only 5,6,7,8 are being abused. I’ve told me mom that if she doesn’t leave my dad this year then I will call cps but every time I tell her that she gets so mad at me and curses at me. I don’t know what to do the abuse is unimaginable and it’s getting worse

    1. Hey Luna,

      This sounds like a really tough and scary situation, and we’re so sorry you’re experiencing this with your family. You’re really brave to reach out for help, and we’d like to support you in any way we can. Whenever you feel safe enough to do so, please call us at 1-866-331-9474, click on the chat button or text loveis to 22522. Because you and your siblings are under 18, you might also consider reaching out to the national child abuse hotline at 1-800-422-4453 (www.childhelp.org).

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