What to Do If You Suspect a Neighbor is Experiencing Domestic Violence During COVID-19

A Bystander Intervention Guide from Abolition Feminists

By Mykie Ozoa and Khara Jabola-Carolus

To be blunt, domestic violence is frightening. If you’ve witnessed an incident of abuse, or if you suspect a neighbor is experiencing violence at home, finding a supportive way to get involved may seem overwhelming. We may fear that our instincts are wrong, that we’re being nosy, or that we’re unqualified to intervene. These are all valid emotional responses to witnessing gender-motivated violence that make it hard to speak up against it. Patriarchy tells us that the personal is personal. To this day, many of us are taught that gender-motivated violence — whether domestic violence or sex buying — is apolitical, and private business between two consenting adults that should be immune from public criticism and community intervention, much less state regulation. Feminism teaches us that the personal is political.

In the United States, “wife-beating” was normal and lawful in all states until 1882 when legal reform began in Maryland. The idea that men sometimes need to physically discipline women (and parents sometimes need to physically discipline children) for acting up is still unconsciously accepted in colonized societies. While 92% of domestic violence-related fatalities are women, men and gender diverse people can also be victims. None of us are immune from patriarchal conceptions of relationships — 68.8 percent of gender identity and sexual orientation minorities in Hawaiʻi report experiencing intimate partner violence.

The more we understand about safe interventions and what social norms we need to look out for, the more comfortable we can become when speaking up, and the more effective we’ll all be in a creating safe, gender violence-free community that render police and prison obsolete.

Before you get involved, ask yourself if it’s safe — 20% of domestic violence-related homicides are a bystander or first-responder. If the situation is already violent or looks like it’s escalating quickly, it may be best to enlist the help of others. Call the police as the last resort. Police, especially Honolulu Police Department, are not typically well-trained in meeting the needs of gender violence victims. In May 2020, at the height of lockdown, HPD surged arrests of women victims of domestic violence which sent a chilling message to help-seeking women. Police may also be colluding with immigration gestapo.

It is important, in domestic violence contexts, that the only effective bystander intervention is a nonviolent one. If you attempt to “rescue” the victim, you’ll not only endanger yourself, but the abuser is likely to take out their anger on the victim later — the victim could end up more isolated and less likely to seek help in the future.

Here are the Four D’s to bystander invention in domestic violence for strangers:

  1. DISTRACT: Say or do something to interrupt the interaction.

Creating a distraction is an indirect and non-confrontational way to intervene, and it can help keep a dangerous situation from escalating. You can try distracting either the person about to commit violence, or the potential victim. if you can use a distraction that will get you a moment alone with the victim, you may have a moment to check with them and see if they want any help.

If you’re directly witnessing an altercation, you could diffuse by going up to the people arguing, acting oblivious to what is actually happening, and ask for the time or for directions.

If it’s a neighbor, you could knock on their door and ask if the power went out because yours did or if they’ve seen another neighbor’s missing pet that you’re helping to look for.

2. DELEGATE: Ask for the help of someone else who may be better able to intervene

Even if you don’t know the victim and the abuser, someone else nearby might. Friends of the people involved might have a better opportunity for a sustained intervention than you. You could say to them, “Look, I’m concerned about that woman. Her husband seems really angry. Would you be able to check in on the situation?”

3. DELAY: Check in with the victim or do something after the difficult moment or incident has passed.

If you’re going to try the ‘Delay’ approach, your best bet will probably be to approach the victim.

4. DIRECT: Say or do something that directly engages one or more of the parties involved

In a direct approach you either approach the potential victim or potential abuser and intervene. The problem with directly approaching an abuser is that they might end up taking it out on their partner later. If you’re going to have any direct contact with a possible abuser it’s probably best to be more subtle.

Finally, here is a domestic violence helpline that connects to a feminist, trauma-informed service provider, not police:

Text (605)956–5680; Call (808)531–3771

Here is the number to a domestic violence shelter on Oʻahu that has been trained in transgender rights:

PACT Ohia Shelter — (808)526–2200




Executive Director, Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women

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Khara Jabola-Carolus

Khara Jabola-Carolus

Executive Director, Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women

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