If You See Something, Say Something: How to Speak Up When It Really Matters

I witnessed a pretty horrible act of violence recently. My husband and I watched an adult male beat on an adult female, out in the open so anyone walking by could see. He not only had her pinned to the ground, but was punching her and then proceeded to drag her around by her hair.

We witnessed this for maybe a total of 1 minute before they went back inside, but it felt like an eternity. My first instinct was to call the police. My husband had them on the phone in seconds and the dispatcher said others had called already. My next instinct was to look away, but I knew I couldn't. I thought statements would probably need to be given to the police, so I made myself watch. Tears streamed down my face as I witnessed this senseless act of violence. I had an instinct to run over to them and try to pull them apart or just yell "stop it!", but I didn't know if they had any weapons, or I didn't know if I too would get beaten. I assume alcohol was involved, and that adds fuel to any kind of fire and can also make it impossible to get anyone to stop doing something violent. When humans aren't in their right mind due to substance abuse or pure anger, it is really scary.

The police arrived within a couple of minutes after our call. We stood back as they pulled them apart, questioned them, and then cuffed the man. A policeman did, indeed, ask for statements about what happened. We could only give a statement of exactly what we saw. Him beating on her. Others had gathered around and said she hit on him too. All I kept thinking was "It doesn't matter who hit who first. She was pinned to the ground at one point and couldn't get away. That should never happen to anyone, regardless of who hit who first."

An ambulance came to give medical attention to the female and took photos of her beaten, bloody face and hands. The male was handcuffed and taken away. We walked away and the crowd of onlookers, 7 police cars and the ambulance cleared.

My husband and I had to debrief and talk about the situation later that evening. We were grateful the police were very quick to respond. We didn't know the situation, their relationship status or how long it had been going on for before we saw it. We won't make judgements on either side (that's for the police to decipher), but I was grateful the woman wasn't beaten to the point of death (because that happens). We were grateful we were safe.

I was grateful to have known, instinctively, exactly what I should have done when I witnessed this situation, and then acted accordingly. I've spoken to a few people about what they would have done in that situation. A couple of people said they wouldn't have known what they would have done. The other couple said they would have done exactly what we did. Call the police and let them do their job.

We all watch television shows and movies where we see characters like John McClane (Bruce Willis, Die Hard fans anyone?) who seems like just an ordinary guy. Then he ends up being a super awesome cop that saves the day by climbing through luggage carousels while being chased by the bad guys while having broken bones throughout his body. He is a movie star super hero that we'd all love to be (that endurance and pain tolerance!), but must understand we aren't living in the movies. We are humans, living real lives, among other humans. We want to be able to save others, but sometimes the best way to help save someone is to simply just speak up.

My husband and I wondered how many people turn a blind eye when they see acts of violence occur and do nothing. I know there are plenty out there who do exactly that. Nothing. I am writing this to encourage others to start speaking up. We didn't know those people, but know we could have possibly helped save her life. If you witness something that you know in your heart doesn't feel right, you must speak up. Even if you don't witness an actual act of violence, but you suspect abuse, neglect, or something else that doesn't feel right, report it. You may think that your one phone call won't make a difference, but sometimes it is the first thing that will make a difference. You can't save the world with one phone call, but you could save one person's life. And that is worth it.

Here are some phone numbers that could help guide you if needed:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (24/7)
  • The Trevor Project (Depression and Suicide Hotline): 1-866-488-7386 (24/7)
  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453 (24/7)
  • To report emergencies in the USA: Dial 911

A website with a list of the numbers above and more: DoSomething.org



Art by Carolyn J. Braden: "If You See Something, Say Something"

Art by Carolyn J. Braden: "If You See Something, Say Something"