How should witnesses respond to a domestic violence situation?

Local News

UTAH (ABC4) – One in four women and one in seven men in the United States will experience severe physical violence by their intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.

With statistics that high, it is likely that many people will witness a domestic violence situation at some point. The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition and the Salt Lake City Police Department tell ABC4 how to respond if you witness this kind of situation.

Liz Sollis, Communications Consultant at the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, says the best things to do is call and report the incident to 911 or police.

“The wisest thing to do is to call 911 and report it immediately if you’re observing something that is suspicious or criminal or violent in nature. Every situation is unique, and we all don’t know all of the factors. You don’t know if somebody might have a weapon, if intervening could put you and that person at greater risk,” she explains. “So the best advice we would provide and have always suggested is if people suspect that domestic violence is occurring, to report it.”

If someone is in immediate danger, 911 is the best option to get them help quickly.

“911 Is there to stop a crime and save a life or to report a fire. So, stopping a crime includes domestic violence – that is a crime… calling 911 is a step one can take to save a life” she states.

People can also call the police non-emergency line if it’s not an emergency situation to request a welfare check, she says. Another resource is the 24-hour LINKline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465), which anyone can call to find out what resources are available or how to talk to someone who might be experiencing domestic violence.

There’s no harm in reporting that you have concerns for someone’s safety, Sollis says. Bystanders and family members are not always in the best position to safely intervene, but help will be given whether they call law enforcement or 911.

“I think it’s easy to say what we all might do in a situation that we’re not all present at…,” Sollis states. “But many times when we’re in those circumstances, you know, we’re all responding differently. And most of the time I would say the majority of people are still going to respond in a way that’s going to try to get help for that person; it just not may not be visibly observed.”

Sollis says there may be times where it is safe to intervene, but the safest response is to get trained professionals involved. Something else people can do to help if they witness a situation is take down information that they can report to law enforcement, such as a description of the people involved, the vehicle they may have been in, or the characters on the license plate

“Even if you only have the first few characters of the license plate, you can provide that to law enforcement and that can help them to try to locate the vehicle. So doing things like that may not seem for some to be enough but it actually gets the ball rolling,” she explains.

Like Sollis, Sergeant Keith Horrocks with the Salt Lake City Police Department, says every situation is different but he would caution against intervening in a domestic violence situation.

“I think that it’s important to know that domestic violence situations can be very hard or have the potential to be very violent,” he says. “Obviously we want people to be safe and anytime you intervene or try to get involved in something, whether it’s a domestic violence situation or any other sort of type of crime in progress, you expose yourself to unknown reactions from the suspect themselves.”

He says it’s a matter of personal choice if a witness decides to step into the situation because they feel doing so could save someone’s life.

“Certainly that’s a decision you’d have to make at the time, but really what we’re looking for is a good witness – somebody that can call 911 for the victim,” he states. “Somebody that can give a description of the suspect: maybe what type of vehicle they may be driving if they flee the scene, where they went, what they were wearing…”

Other information that could be useful to law enforcement is if the suspect has a weapon, which direction they went, and other details that might help them locate the suspect.

Should I record the situation on my phone?

While knowing the specific of the situation is important, bystanders need to be careful about recording incidents on their phone, both Horrocks and Sollis say.

“It depends on the situation,” Horrocks states. “Because if the suspects were to see you taking video, now you’re putting yourself possibly in harm’s way. They may come over and and challenge that person is taking a video.”

If you can take the video secretly or without being seen, it will certainly be helpful to officers later to know exactly what happened, he says.

Sollis advises against using Facebook Live to record an incident since you never know how it will play out. It could also place law enforcement in danger in the case of a SWAT situation, she explains.

“If you want to film it with your phone, then instead of putting it on Facebook, take it to law enforcement,” she says. “Take it to the agency who’s going to be investigating.”

Support for victims and survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-897-LINK (5465). If you or someone else is in immediate danger, or in an emergency, please call 9-1-1 immediately.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Utah Coronavirus

More Coronavirus Updates