Many of us know the unfortunate statistics when it comes to domestic violence – 1 in 3 women in the United States will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime. We also know that the majority of abuse happens behind closed doors. But what about those rare moments when the abuse seeps outside of the home? When you’re going about your life and then you witness the start of a conversation between two partners that ends in an outburst of abuse? As a public bystander witnessing domestic violence, your options, unfortunately, are limited. However, there are a few really practical steps you can take in order to support the individual experiencing abuse.
It was a Friday night in Dallas, Texas. Pete’s Piano Bar was alive and well, filled with all kinds of different characters singing, dancing and heckling the piano players (all in good fun). However, outside in the parking lot, the darker side of an intimate relationships was beginning to take a turn for the worse. A couple standing outside their car appeared to be in a heated argument with the man dominating the conversation with his raised voice. He continued to berate his partner yelling expletives and bringing up past relationships. The man eventually walked away but shortly turned around. The woman had gotten into the passenger seat of the vehicle looking to disengage with her partner, but to her disappointment, he returned and opened the driver’s door. Leaning in, he continued to yell disparaging comments, aggressively gesturing in her space. The woman on the receiving end of this verbal abuse sat in the car barely responding or defending herself. This continued for more than twenty minutes with the man becoming increasingly upset and verbally aggressive. Imagine witnessing someone speaking to another human in this way, much less an intimate partner. What would you do? Get in your car and drive away and hope he “chills out?” Approach the couple and ask if everything is, okay? Call the police? Report them to Pete’s?
Research shows us that the majority of domestic violence takes place behind closed doors. While this is true, there are instances where you might witness domestic violence in public. Here at Genesis, we want to provide resources and education to help equip our community to recognize and respond to domestic violence, regardless of it happening behind closed doors or out in public.
So, how should you respond? We’re going to walk you through a few steps you can take to keep yourself and the victim safe.
Safety, Safety, Safety!
The most important step in any situation involving a violent and/or verbally aggressive individual is to keep yourself safe. At the end of the day, you can only help if you are in a safe place to do so, so keeping both yourself and the victim safe are top priorities. Maintaining a safe distance for yourself is crucial. When individuals are reacting emotionally, they often behave erratically, and keeping yourself in a safe space (for example, a locked car) is the best way to help in a situation. While intervening may be a feasible approach depending on the situation, use discretion and consider everyone’s safety before acting hastily – this could cause the abuser to escalate further, making the situation more dangerous for everyone involved.
Document the Incident
Record the incident with your phone, write down license plate numbers, make notes about comments exchanged, gestures or any physical aggression – all of these details can help bring context to a situation and provide the victim and law enforcement with details about what happened during the incident. If the incident escalates to the point where law enforcement is needed, it can be helpful to provide as much information to the operator and/or officer during a domestic violence situation.
Keeping in mind that safety is paramount for all involved, contacting the police might be the next step if you find yourself out in public witnessing a situation of domestic violence. Although contacting law enforcement can escalate an abuser’s behavior, having the police intervene is an option in case things do escalate into aggressive behavior. Law enforcement can also be a way to break up the situation and allows police officials to check in with each individual. They can also give the victim a ride in order to safely get out of the situation. Calling the police does not guarantee anything will happen, but using the police as a resource to break up the situation and provide additional documentation of the incident is a way for law enforcement to at least have a report on the violent person.
Refer to Genesis
We’re only a call or text away! Genesis has many resources for women and children experiencing domestic violence and abuse. If you witness an incident of domestic violence, remember not to place judgement on the individual experiencing the abuse. There are many reasons an individual might choose to stay in an abusive relationship – we will never know their reality, so exercise compassion. To quote one of my favorite social justice advocates, Fred Rogers, “Real strength has to do with helping others.” We find out what we’re made of when we experience conflict and challenging situations. It is our commitment that we continue to provide resources and education to the community in the hopes of protecting our neighbors and ending domestic violence.
The information in this blog was pulled from various domestic violence resources and with guidance from Genesis’s Director of Advocacy and Education, Krista Fultz.