Worried About Domestic Abuse? Calling The Police Is Absolutely The Right Thing To Do

Four in five victims of domestic abuse don’t call the police – we should be supporting, not challenging, the instinct in others to call for help, writes SafeLives' Suzanne Jacob
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The weekend has been full of comment about the relationship we have with our neighbours. We make no comment on any individual circumstances or relationships, but as decent humans and responsible citizens we can all help to keep each other safe. This is not just about domestic abuse. We all have a right to be safe behind closed doors as well as in the street, our workplace and anywhere else.

Over the weekend, we and a number of colleagues working on domestic abuse became concerned about a wave of commentary insisting that our relationships and neighbours’ lives are a ‘private matter’ that should not be interfered with. Collectively, we felt it was urgent to point out the implications of this. Urgent for every single victim and survivor who is watching and taking note of what people are saying. Urgent for potential bystanders who are hearing a repeated message not to intervene.

Each year in the UK, over two million people experience domestic abuse. They are your friends, your family, your colleagues and your neighbours. It’s important we think about them watching the discussions this weekend and consider how it’s affecting them and their sense of being heard and believed. We urge everyone to weigh their words and responses more carefully.

We know that four out of five victims don’t call the police. Victims live with domestic abuse for three years on average before they get the support they need. We’re working hard with police forces across the UK to help them understand the dynamics of domestic abuse and coercive control so that when they are called, they can respond appropriately. But this approach will only succeed if people feel confident to reach out for support.

It is a natural human instinct to call the police if you are worried about someone’s safety. We should be supporting that instinct, not challenging it.

In everything we do, we work alongside survivors of domestic abuse, and the families and friends of those murdered by someone close to them. Time and time again they tell us that they wish someone had asked them the right question at the right time, called the police, reached out. It could be the nurse in A&E who knows something doesn’t feel right and asks to speak to a patient without their partner present. It could be the teacher who asks a child if everything is ok at home – or the neighbour who refuses to ignore what they’re hearing through the walls at night. It’s with victims, survivors and their loved ones in mind that we have chosen to speak about this.

Our joint statement with colleagues in the sector isn’t about casting aspersions on what has or hasn’t happened this weekend. It’s about thinking about the society we want. Thinking about what you would want for your child or best friend.

The weekend has shown that we still have much work to do to make this case. We’re delighted to have had such wide-reaching support. Together our voices are louder.

We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, but if you’re worried about someone, it is absolutely the right thing to act on your instincts. Reach out. Ask if they are okay. Call the police. You could be the person that makes a difference.

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

  • The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership by Women’s Aid and Refuge): 0808 2000 247
  • In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
  • In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
  • In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
  • Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
  • Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321