There is always a risk that intervening to help may escalate the situation or not be what the victim wants. Stepping in, though, is what makes us neighbors. The most important thing to keep in mind is getting professional help right away. Here are some steps you can take beyond that to be as helpful as possible.
- Assess the physical danger. Things can go from verbal to physical violence quickly, and weapons enhance the danger significantly. If you do notice a weapon, immediately try to get away from the situation—do not try to wrestle it away or take it from the offender.
- Stay as calm as possible and try to get others around you to create an audience. There is strength in numbers.
- Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. It’s helpful to have your local law enforcement non-emergency number saved in your phone in case you need to report a crime or incident but the danger has passed.
- Ask the victim if there is anything you can do. Sometimes just listening is enough. However, if the victim is underage or an older adult, and the abuser is a parent or caregiver, you may be compelled to report based on your state reporting mandates.
- Try to remember as many things about the incident as you can—take down license plate number, make, and model of any vehicle; physical descriptions (scars, tattoos, height, weight, hair color); and location, date, and time of the incident. Be careful about video. While a video might be useful, don’t broadcast that you are filming. Keep your phone low or hidden.
Benje Douglas is Bowdoin’s director of gender violence prevention education.
This piece first appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Bowdoin magazine.