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Eyewitness To Abuse: What Should You Do?

Updated on September 10, 2014
Elaine Flowers profile image

Elaine Flowers is the co-author of "So... How Was Your Date? Dating Chronicles Of Single Men and Women" and the author of five other titles.

Ray Rice knocking out his wife (then fiancée) in a hotel elevator is difficult to watch but is certainly nothing unfamiliar. Seeing it happen is what makes it so horrifying. And as hard as it is for us to see the video of this huge man hit her on repeat all day, knocking her out with little effort, I have to wonder how they honestly feel when they see the playback.

Every time the domestic abuse pot is stirred, in the news or in my every day life, I am taken back to a season when I was called to testify (on the things I witnessed) in the murder trial of a friend who was beaten to death by her husband. After all this time, it’s still so very fresh.


But, I digress...

I don’t really want to get into a discussion about abuse itself, why people do it or why they stick around when they’re being victimized. Neither do I want to debate whether physical abuse and murder happens more frequently against women by men or the other way around. It doesn’t matter because both are despicable. And a discussion on misogyny is never-ending so I don’t want to journey down that path either.

What I would like to discuss, however, is what someone should do when they bear witness to abuse.

It’s not an easy question to answer and neither is it an easy decision to make once you’re faced with making it. There are also many variables to consider, such as:

  • Are the people strangers, acquaintances, close friends or family members? This matters greatly as it should.
  • Is it verbal, emotional or physical abuse? It’s safe to say that the response to the type of abuse, if you chose to respond, would and should be different.

If you don’t know the people and physical abuse is taking place, a simple call to the police while remaining anonymous is a standard and acceptable response. But things get complicated when you know, or are related to, the people engaged in the physical altercation. What do you do? Should you turn a blind eye? Speak up and run the risk of becoming abused yourself or ruining your relationship with one or both of them? And it’s sad to say that things become even more complicated when the abuse isn’t physical, but is emotional, sexual or verbal. And more complicated still, when the victim(s) is a minor.

Let’s face it; no one wants to disrupt the order of business or the flow of things. And the person who speaks up is doing just that. It’s an unpopular position to be in and it takes a certain level of bravery to shine a light on the ugliness of it all.

Is speaking out the thing to do?

Should you confront and shed light on the situation?

Should you run the risk of ostracizing yourself from the group or family?

Would you speak up if someone in your family was abusive or being abused?

Would you uncover the dirty secret if both the abused and abuser were people you cared about?

When everything is hypothetical, it’s easy to give a resounding YES to these questions, but is it ever as simple as that? Create a scenario in your mind using the people in your life and ask, what if? Put situations and consequences in place of your real life and ask, what if? And then follow with, “What would I do?”

I would love to declare that every one should get involved and speak up when they witness someone being abused. It sounds very noble and upstanding but the truth is, not everyone has the wherewithal to involve him or herself. It’s a sad truth, actually. And for those of us who have the nerve and the balls, we can’t allow ourselves to become frustrated with the rest.

If you have thoughts or experiences you'd like to share, I would greatly appreciate them.


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    • Elaine Flowers profile image

      Elaine Flowers 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks for the comment and the Tweet, Shani.

      After my friend who was murdered by her husband, I blamed myself (and some days, still do) because I encouraged (and assisted) her to leave him. My brain tells me it wasn't my fault but I still can't help that gnawing feeling I get inside. I don't know what I could've done differently. Probably nothing that would've saved her, but maybe something differently that would rid me of blaming myself. I don't know. What I have learned, however, is when I find myself in the company of an abusive couple, I remove them from my life after I speak my piece. I cannot stand the thought of being a witness at another murder trial.

    • ShaniGDowdell profile image

      ShaniGDowdell 3 years ago from Opelika, Alabama

      More people than are willing to speak up have experienced domestic violence in some form. Whether it be as a child witness, a woman/man being abused, or it happening to someone in our families. I believe Ray Rice's wife was wrong for hitting him, and he was wrong for hitting her. Their aggression and anger should be handled in a better way. They are young so perhaps counseling would help.

      I remember when I was 13 and my neighbor was being beat by her husband. She was screaming for help and we could hear bumps and punches. I called the police. When they came, the woman said that she was fine and was upset that we called the police. I remember thinking that she was crazy, but at least we got the police there before she was badly hurt.

      It's a delicate matter that each person will handle differently, but I would call the police. I'd rather try to help someone than regret it if they were killed. Sometimes, people need to be saved from themselves.

    • Elaine Flowers profile image

      Elaine Flowers 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas


      Your comment is much appreciated. Yes, wrongly accusing someone would be far worse than turning a blind-eye. And I know this happens all the time, especially when children are involved. Again, no easy answers...

    • Elaine Flowers profile image

      Elaine Flowers 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas


      Thanks so much for the comment. To the point of this Hub, we can try to blame someone (one or both) involved in the abuse. I have always believed that 2 people are at fault in these situations. But what do you do when you see it? In the case of the Rice's, not only did the NFL not want to disrupt the order of business by addressing what they knew (and yes, they knew) but think about the family and friends who gathered at their recent wedding celebration (I'm assuming there was some sort of ceremony) who knew of their years of fighting and cheered them on anyway. All of it is so distressing to me and I know there are no easy answers but I think it's worth thinking about and considering what your actions would and should be when and if you're faced with having to respond.

    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 3 years ago

      I believe where and how one was raised will determine how they react to witnessing abuse. Most people aren't going to call the police because they've witnessed (verbal) abuse unless it's happening next door to them and keeping them awake.

      Having grown up in Gary, Indiana during years when it was known as "The Murder Capital of the World" most folks tried to avoid "witnessing" anything.

      During my childhood we lived across from a couple who used have violent arguments all the time and when the police showed up they were back to being "lovey dovey". The man walked with a limp and the rumor is during one of their fights she once shot him in the leg. Clearly an instance where both people yell and strike each other calling the police on them is going to unite them against you. They'll be kissing/making up.

      It wouldn't surprise me if Ray Rice and Janay Palmer were very similar to my neighbors. In the video I saw (before they got into the elevator) he spit at her and then she "pimped slapped" or (back handed) him in the face as she walked towards the elevator. Once they got in he pushed her head against the wall and then she charged at him. That's when he knocked her out.

      A few months later she married him!!!

      They were high school sweethearts, they've been together for almost 10 years, and have a child together. It wouldn't be a surprise to me if they both came from homes that had domestic violence. In fact violence in the hood is not unusual period.

      It would amaze you how people can get use to things like this happening around them. If there would have been video tape of some of the whippings my mother gave us as children she would have been locked away for many years!

      They have a daughter together.Clearly what I saw showed me this was not the first time they were physical with one another. She had no fear of slapping him or charging after him.

      Based on my experience it would be easier to notify the authorities if I witnessed two strangers then it would be if I were related or had a close connection with them. If I'm close to the couple I'd break it up. Most likely I'd have some insight into their pattern and why they (choose) to stay together. Both the abuser and the abused person need help when they believe violent drama is simply part of being a couple.

    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 3 years ago from Warwick, NY

      I do have thoughts and considerations on this subject. When someone is close to you, and you suspect potential abuse in their family, it is so much more of a gray area than you think. Wrongly accusing someone could be devastating, and sometimes the outcome of reporting abuse when considered, could impact a family worse than what they are potentially enduring, as there are certainly varying degrees of hurt. This is definitely a topic worthy of more coverage and advice.....