Five steps to take if you witness domestic violence

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By Nicole Molinaro and Carla Adams

You are driving down the street and see a man aggressively push a woman away, yell at her and then grab her closer to get a better angle to punch her. You are a bystander. What do you do?

Domestic violence is typically a secret, so it usually happens behind closed doors. Although it’s not common to witness attacks, it does happen, and it can be difficult to know what to do to help. Every situation is different, and it’s important to assess the situation quickly to determine how to act. So what should that action look like?

  1. When you see someone being physically assaulted, call 911 immediately. This is what most people would do if you see two strangers fighting; a fight between a couple should be no different.
  2. What you do after you call 911 will depend on the situation – both their situation and yours. Questions to ask are as follows: Are there other people around or is it just you? Are you by yourself or perhaps caring for young child as well? It is never safe to intervene in a fight. Yelling “I just called the police!” could get the batterer’s attention and stop them… or it could make them madder. Jumping in to intervene could stop it or could result in you getting hurt, especially if no one else is around. Consider your options.
  3. If the batterer leaves, we would encourage you to talk to the victim. You and the victim should move to a well-lit place surrounded by others. This is to ensure the safety for both of you if the batterer returns. Offer her non-judgmental encouragement and ensure she hears that it’s not her fault. Do not tell her to just leave the batterer as leaving is the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse, and she may need to plan with domestic violence professionals to leave safely.
  4. Make sure the victim has someone to help her. Ask the victim if there is someone she wants to call. She may need your assistance with a phone if it is not safe for her to use her own phone or if the batterer has taken her phone. The victim may ask that you wait with her until her safe person comes to pick her up. If you agree to wait with her, remain in a well-lit place.
  5. Once the safe person arrives to pick up the victim, provide her with a phone number to a domestic violence hotline.

Thank you for caring. To learn more about domestic violence, visit or Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh’s 24-hour hotline is 412 687-8005.

Nicole Molinaro is the chief program officer at Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. Carla Adams is manager of services at Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

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