When you live in an apartment building or condominium complex, you often get a pretty good glimpse into your neighbors’ lives. And, sometimes, what you see and hear may be concerning.
It can be hard to believe your ears at first if you hear signs of domestic violence happening in a neighboring unit. But three women die every day due to domestic violence and over four million women suffer domestic violence from an intimate partner each year. If you believe domestic abuse is occurring in a neighboring unit, trust your intuition, but be careful how you approach the situation.
What to do if you suspect domestic abuse
Your instinct may be to call the police, but—unfortunately—this can often make matters worse for the abused. After the police show up, the abuser might get angry at their significant other, believing they’re the one who called and ultimately escalating the abuse. Do not call the police until after you have spoken to the abused person and gained a sense for whether or not it would be safe for you to call. If they become panicked at the thought of you calling the police and insists that would be a bad idea, listen.
But how do you even approach them to chat? Often, neighbors feel an urge to be the hero. They may come over and try to force an abused person out of their situation or preach to them about their own safety. Do not do this. Abuse victims are often very protective of their emotions and their appearance to outsiders – so be patient. Be empathetic. Let them know you are there if they ever need you. Encourage open communication and understand the difficultly and gravity of their situation.
Be cautious not to say anything cruel about the abuser, either. Anything you overhear in the heat of an argument is not fair game – bringing it up is judgmental and accusatory, which can not only lead to mistrust on the part of the abused, but could have dangerous repercussions for you and the victim from the abuser themselves.
Be sure not to let the abuser see you talking to their partner. Abusive partners are often paranoid that people are aware of the situation, and do not like their partners talking to outsiders. Approach the abused individual when you know their partner isn’t home and cannot see the interaction. Once you have them in a conversation, do not say you believe abuse is occurring. It takes time for anyone in an abusive relationship to know there is a problem and even longer to be able to admit that to outsiders. Simply state that you have overheard some things that concerned you, and tell the victim there are resources they can use if they don’t feel safe. You could also write down the names and numbers of these resources, but write them on a small, discreet piece of paper.
Finally, avoid communicating by phone or email. Privacy is not a concern for abusive partners and it’s common for victims to use shared accounts or special permissions when they’re online. If the abuser comes across any correspondence with you, you are putting not only the victim, but yourself in harm’s way. Interact normally with the abuser when you see them around—as difficult as that may be. If you are rude or cold, they may quickly pick up on the fact that you know something.
If you can hear or see that physical abuse is taking place in the moment, call the police. Seeing the signs of recent physical abuse could give them cause to arrest the abuser, but they cannot do much based on noise complaints alone. Do not sit in silence if you suspect a neighbor is being abused. It’s individuals like you could make all the difference.