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Domestic violence occurs in every community in Rhode Island and can happen to anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or socioeconomic status.

Within your community, your family, your school, or your workplace, you have a part to play. Explore this section of our website to learn how you can be an active bystander helping to end and prevent domestic violence in our state.

Bystander Tools

This tool is called Know What to Do: Help Someone Experiencing Domestic or Dating Violence.

Use it to start a conversation with anyone you know or suspect is experiencing abuse and to find ways you can support them.

Know What to Do Bystander Tool

 

Steps You Can Take

How to Be an Active Bystander

No matter what roles you play in life, whether parent, coworker, neighbor, or friend, you are a bystander, and you can help end domestic violence in your communities. Find some steps you can take below.

At the RICADV, we use public awareness campaigns to inform Rhode Islanders about domestic violence. For the last few years, our focus has been on engaging bystanders to learn about the ways they can help build safe communities free from violence. Visit our Communications Center to Know More!


  • Parents

  • Youth

  • Educators

  • Coworkers/Employers

  • Healthcare Professionals

  • Stay involved in your child's life, school, and activities.
  • Practice open communication with your child.
  • Model healthy relationships based on trust and respect.
  • Talk proactively to your child about dating violence, digital abuse, healthy boundaries, and sex and consent in relationships.
  • Educate yourself about the warning signs and dynamics of abuse.
  • If you notice a change in your child's behavior, do not ignore or dismiss it. Ask what is going on.
  • If you see bruises or injuries on your child, ask questions. Do not just let it go, especially if their explanations do not add up.
  • Do not minimize the significance of your child's dating relationships.
  • Make sure your child's school is offering workshops or classes about dating violence. In compliance with Rhode Island's Lindsay Ann Burke Law, all middle schools and high schools in RI should have a policy addressing dating violence, should train faculty on this issue, and should offer dating violence education to students.
  • If your child is experiencing dating violence, connect with a local domestic violence agency to develop a safety plan and learn how to best support your child.
  • Talk to other parents about looking out for each other's children and speaking up if you see any signs of abuse.
  • Speak up if you hear your friends using language or telling jokes that are demeaning toward women or men or that promote violence.
  • Educate yourself about healthy relationships and the warning signs of abuse.
  • If you notice that your friend has bruises or reoccurring injuries, ask what is happening in a non-judgmental way.
  • Talk to your friends about establishing boundaries in their relationships and the dangers of digital abuse.
  • If you suspect that your friend is in an abusive relationship, talk to a trusted adult, contact your local domestic violence agency, or call the statewide Helpline at 1-800-494-8100.
  • If your friend tells you that they are in an abusive relationship, be supportive and patient. Contact your local domestic violence agency, call the statewide Helpline, or get an adult involved who can help.
  • Join or start a club for young people at your school or in your community that addresses dating violence and builds skills around how to have healthy relationships.
  • Make sure your school has a policy addressing dating violence, trains faculty on this issue, and offers dating violence education to you and your peers. It's Rhode Island law!
  • Host an event at your school or in your community that raises awareness about dating violence and promotes healthy relationships.
  • Volunteer with a local domestic violence agency.
  • Practice open communication with students in your school.
  • Make sure students know about resources on dating violence and healthy relationships that your school can provide.
  • If you see a student with bruises or injuries, or if you suspect that a student may be experiencing dating violence, ask if they are okay, and follow up.
  • When possible, incorporate dating violence prevention into in-class lesson plans and after-school programs.
  • If you see abusive behavior in the classroom, hallway, or anywhere else, do not ignore it. Intervene.
  • Engage in dialogue with your colleagues about any abusive behaviors that you notice among students. Help them make the connection between dating violence and other important school safety issues.
  • Talk to your school administrators about establishing policies that protect students from dating violence, and make sure your school is acting in compliance with the Lindsay Ann Burke Law. In accordance with the law, all middle and high schools in Rhode Island are mandated to have a policy addressing teen dating violence, to train faculty on the issue, and to offer students teen dating violence education annually.
  • Establish relationships with your students' parents. Help them understand the dynamics of dating violence and recognize the warning signs.
  • Make sure dating violence resources are visible and accessible at your school, and help develop engaging education and outreach programs for students.
  • Build partnerships with local community-based organizations, including your local domestic violence agency, and provide referrals to students who are experiencing abuse.
  • October is national Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), and February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month (TDVAPM). Support your school's participation in awareness month activities, and help organize school-based events. Visit our website to learn about local, statewide and national initiatives during these months and throughout the year.
  • If you see that a colleague has bruises or frequent injuries, ask if they are okay and be a resource to them.
  • Make sure your workplace has established domestic violence policies that protect victims of abuse.
  • Educate yourself on the warning signs and dynamics of domestic violence and how it can impact the workplace.
  • Sometimes, abusive partners will harass their victims at work (e.g. by calling their victims excessively or "making a scene" outside the office). If such incidents occur, express your concerns to human resources and offer to help your coworker.
  • Make sure that materials and resources on domestic violence are visible and accessible in the workplace.
  • If you hear coworkers making sexist or victim-blaming comments or telling inappropriate jokes, speak up.
  • Be patient. Understand that you can't force anyone to reach out for help and that it is very difficult to end an abusive relationship. Just let your coworker know that you are there for them.
  • As an employer, host trainings on domestic violence and the workplace. Make your workplace a safe place for those impacted by domestic violence to come forward by creating an environment where violence is not tolerated and by accommodating their needs through benefits and flexibility.
  • Build a relationship with your local domestic violence agency, and provide referrals to those who are experiencing abuse.
  • Screen all patients for domestic violence, also known as universal screening. Universal screening is considered a best practice and can help you refer victims of domestic violence to critical services.
  • Take the time to listen to your patient's explanations of their injuries and to their descriptions of their life at home and personal life. If you suspect that your patient may be experiencing domestic violence, let them know that you can be a resource to them and that anything they disclose to you will remain confidential.
  • Make sure that you have visible and accessible resources available for victims in your waiting and exam rooms.
  • Educate yourself and your staff/coworkers on the warning signs of abuse, screening procedures, and how to support and refer victims.
  • Build relationships with advocates who work at your local member agencies and with local law enforcement to help keep victims safe.
  • Be patient. Understand that you can't force your patients to reach out for help and that it is very difficult to end an abusive relationship. Support them and make sure that they know they can turn to you for help.
Making a Plan for Safety


If someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or dating violence, offer to assist them in creating a plan that will help them stay safe when abuse occurs.

As advocates, we call this "safety planning." A safety plan is a practical guide that can help victims of abuse and their children stay safe.

The person experiencing abuse is the expert on their own relationship, so it is important that they lead the process of developing a safety plan that will work for them. We encourage victims of domestic violence and those looking to help to speak with a domestic violence advocate about this process. Call the RI statewide Helpline (1-800-494-8100) or a local domestic violence agency to speak confidentially with an advocate and make a plan for safety.


  • Steps to Consider

  • Items to Take Checklist

  • Technology Safety

  • After Ending the Relationship

 

  • Decide what you will do if the abuser becomes violent again. What has worked in the past to keep you and your children safe?

  • Can you call the police or teach your children to call? Who else can you call? Work out an emergency code or signal with the children or with neighbors you trust. Ask the neighbors to call the police if they see or hear anything suspicious around your home.

  • Know how and when you can most safely leave. Plan an escape route to get out of the house quickly. Rehearse the escape plan, and practice it with your children, if it is safe to do so. Create a few believable reasons for leaving the house at different times of day or night, like taking out the trash or walking the dog. Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway and keeping it fueled.

  • Consider where you, your children, and your pets can go and whom you can call for help, either in an emergency or if you decide to leave the relationship. Talk to trusted people in your life about your situation.

  • Write down a list of names, phone numbers, and addresses of people and organizations you can go to for help. Keep the list in a safe place where the abuser cannot find it, preferably not in a cell phone, which can break or get lost or which the abuser can monitor, take, or destroy.

  • See the “Items to Take Checklist” on the next tab if you are planning to leave the relationship. Keep important items, such as money, spare keys, changes of clothes, medicine, and copies of important documents, with someone you trust in case you need to leave quickly.

  • Contact a local domestic violence agency to learn about the resources available to you. Call the RI statewide Helpline (1-800-494-8100) to confidentially speak with an advocate.

  • Do you need a restraining order? Contact a domestic violence court advocate for information and support.

  • Open a post office box so you can receive mail and have a safe address to use. Open a savings account at a bank not used by the abuser. Open the account in your name using a safe address, or hide money to establish or increase your independence.

  • Take steps to prove ownership of your pets. Register them with your town under your name. Do not leave pets alone with the abuser. Talk to loved ones or your veterinarian about temporary care for your pet, or contact a local domestic violence agency or animal shelter directly.



Items to Take Checklist

□ Identification & driver’s license

□ Car registration, title, & insurance

□ Birth certificates for self & children

□ Social Security cards

□ School & medical records

□ Cash, bankbooks, ATM & credit cards

□ Extra keys – house/car/office

□ Changes of clothes

□ Medications

□ Eyeglasses & contacts

□ Food & supplies for pets

□ Pet registration & medical records

□ Cash & food assistance cards

□ Child support orders

□ Passport(s), Green Card, visa, permits

□ Divorce & custody documents

□ Marriage license

□ Copies of protective orders

□ Agreements - lease/rental/deeds

□ Mortgage payment book

□ Current unpaid bills in my name

□ Health & life insurance documents

□ Jewelry, heirlooms, photos, & items of sentimental value

□ Children’s toys & blankets

□ Address book / emergency numbers

• RI statewide Helpline (1-800-494-8100)

• Trusted friends & family; school; work

• Local police; doctor’s office; hospital

• Community agencies; veterinarian

 

The technology you use, such as cell phones and social media, may be helpful to you but can also be misused and monitored by the abusive partner.

As you think about safety planning, remember to make your digital safety and privacy a priority. For tips, visit the Privacy & Technology section of our website.


If you have ended the relationship, consider the following:

  • Change the locks on doors and windows. Install a security system, extra locks, steel or metal doors, window bars, better lighting, motion-sensitive and outdoor lighting, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers.

  • Inform trusted neighbors that the abuser no longer lives with you. Ask them to call the police if they observe the abuser near your home or children or if they hear or see anything suspicious around your home.

  • Avoid places (stores, banks, etc.) and routes that the abuser uses often or expects you to use often.

  • Change your work hours or the route you take to work. Create a plan for leaving work safely every day and a process for screening your calls.

  • Talk with schools, childcare providers, and anyone who takes care of your children about who has permission to pick them up.

  • Teach your children what to do if the abuser takes them, such as calling you, the police, or trusted family members and friends.

  • Change veterinarians, and avoid leaving pets outside alone.

  • Obtain a restraining order, and keep it on you at all times. Call the police to enforce the order. Give copies to employers, neighbors, and schools along with a photo of the offender.

  • Talk to a lawyer who specializes in family violence. Learn about options that will protect you and your children when it comes to divorce, custody, and visitation. If you have a custody agreement with the abusive partner, develop a safety plan for visitation, such as whom the children can call or where they can go if they need help. Make a plan for safe custody exchanges, such as meeting in a safe public place and bringing someone you trust.
Bystander Definition

A bystander of domestic violence is anyone who is in some way present to relationship abuse but is neither the perpetrator nor the victim. A bystander can a family member, friend, classmate, teammate, or coworker – anyone in social or professional relationships with those who may be perpetrating or experiencing abuse.

In short, we are all bystanders.

But are we all active bystanders? Active bystanders are people who recognize a problem and decide to intervene in a way that feels safe and appropriate for them.

There is no "one right way" to be an active bystander. We can all determine for ourselves how and when to take action. And with many options to choose from when it comes to the steps we can take to help, we will be more likely to respond rather than remain passive and silent – and hence complicit – in the face of violence or abuse.

Being an active bystander can mean intervening in domestic violence that you witness, know or suspect is occurring, either between strangers, acquaintances or people you know. Being an active bystander also means helping to stop domestic violence before it starts. Various behaviors, words and actions work to normalize and condone violence in our communities. If we know how to recognize such factors that contribute to abuse, we can adopt strategies for taking a stand against them to help end domestic violence.

Why Bystanders?

A bystander approach to ending domestic violence is about supporting community members in their efforts to prevent and intervene in abuse by developing the skills of both men and women as effective allies in ending relationship violence, giving them a role to play and concrete steps to take.

When bystanders learn more about domestic violence and have the resources they need to get involved, then the community can start taking ownership of an issue that people often think of as a private matter or a relationship problem, an issue that is none of their business or has nothing to do with them, rather than seeing domestic violence for what it is – a community health epidemic.

Bystander Barriers

Barriers to Being an Active Bystander

Being an active bystander when you witness abuse is challenging.

Many people will choose not to get involved if they feel intimidated or uncertain, and finding a supportive way to help can be overwhelming. We may think that we're being nosy or intrusive or that we're unqualified to intervene. We may not know what to say or do.

Read on for more information about barriers to being an active bystander and ways to overcome them.

 

  • Main Barriers

  • Overcoming Barriers

Some of the main barriers that prevent people from intervening include:

  • Social Influence – If bystanders do not see other people getting involved, then they may convince themselves that there is no need to step in. "Maybe it's not so bad after all."
  • Social Pressures/Fear of Embarrassment – Bystanders may not get involved because they do not want to call negative attention to themselves or to the victim. "If I get involved, it will only make this worse – for myself and for the victim."
  • Diffusion of Responsibility – Bystanders become less likely to get involved as the amount of people present increases because they feel as though "someone else" will take care of the problem. "I'll let someone more qualified or capable handle this."
  • Fear of Retaliation – Bystanders' legitimate fears – of physical or emotional harm or of negative reactions and comments from others – may stop them from intervening. "Don't come for me next!"
  • Pluralistic Ignorance – Bystanders may believe that they're the only ones who think a situation warrants intervention, even if, in reality, most bystanders in the situation are concerned and want to act. If no one is actually taking action, then bystanders may incorrectly believe that they are the minority and will defer to what they misperceive as being the majority view. "Majority rules – the best way to handle this situation is to do nothing and say nothing."

These are all valid and understandable emotional and psychological reactions that make it difficult to intervene, and we must give ourselves the space to address our own personal challenges and barriers around being an active bystander.

To start, ask yourself these questions:

  • When have I been a passive bystander before?
  • What bothered me about the situation?
  • What kept me from taking action?
  • How did I feel afterwards?

We all have the ability to act before someone else gets hurt. The more we understand how to identify and safely intervene in abusive situations, and the more we know how to recognize and respond to the behaviors that contribute to domestic violence, the less afraid or anxious we'll feel, and the more effective we'll be in taking action to help create safe, violence-free communities.

Create a system that supports you in taking action for when you are faced with a situation where you feel like you should get involved. There is no "right way" to intervene – find ways to intervene that are comfortable and safe for you.

Following these basic steps can help:

  • Recognize a violent or abusive situation
  • Consider whether the situation demands action
  • Decide whether or not you have the responsibility to act
  • Choose the form of assistance to use
  • Understand how to implement your decision