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Bystander Intervention: When Someone Reports You for Suspected Domestic Violence

ksenia-makagonova-9y6oH2qHai0-unsplash-200x300It’s a devastating, humiliating scenario that happens more often than we might think. You’re engaged in a heated discussion with your significant other–possibly outside or with the windows open in your home. Things get a bit out of hand. Not long after, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the police; a neighbor heard your argument and called 911. Next thing you know, you’re under arrest for suspected domestic battery.

Despite the numerous studies about the so-called “bystander effect” (suggesting that people in groups are less likely to intervene when someone is in trouble), the fact remains that many bystanders will intervene if they suspect domestic violence (as many as 85 percent of people will respond if they feel they are the only one who can help). There is also a current movement in our modern culture that encourages bystander intervention. In short, if someone hears or witnesses suspected domestic violence, there’s a strong likelihood that they will call the police. And in California, law enforcement is required to make an arrest if they see probable cause of violence when they arrive on the scene. Let’s discuss this dynamic, explore the role of bystanders in suspected domestic violence cases, and talk about your options if a bystander reports you.


Who Can Report Domestic Violence and Why They Might Do So?

With domestic violence, a report can come from anyone aware of the situation. This includes neighbors, friends, relatives, coworkers, and even strangers who witness the abuse. Since bystander intervention has been shown to stop or reduce acts of violence and abuse in general, members of the public are encouraged to intervene–as long as they can do so safely. In today’s world, the “safest” way to intervene is usually to call the police.


Mandated Reporters

In addition to people voluntarily reporting domestic violence, some people are mandated by law to report to law enforcement if they suspect domestic abuse is occurring. The list of mandated reporters varies by type of abuse.

For suspected domestic violence in general (i.e., against a spouse or significant other)–any licensed medical professional who observes suspicious injuries on a patient is required to report the matter to law enforcement.

For suspected child abuse–the list of mandated reporters is longer and includes (but is not limited to):

  • Medical professionals
  • Teachers
  • School employees
  • Therapists
  • Administrators of children’s programs
  • Members of the clergy

For suspected adult/elder abuse–the list of mandated reporters includes:

  • Medical professionals
  • Nursing home employees
  • Members of the clergy
  • Employees of county adult health protective services
  • Anyone else who has continual or intermittent responsibility to care for an elderly or disabled adult, paid or unpaid

In short, there is a wide pool of bystanders who might report you for suspected domestic violence, and a group of individuals who are legally required to report you.

People may feel compelled to report domestic violence for a variety of reasons. The primary motivation is typically concern for the safety and well-being of the victim. However, there’s also an increasing societal awareness that silence can perpetuate violence. Reporting these incidents, therefore, is seen as a crucial step in potentially saving lives and bringing justice to victims.


What Might Prompt a Bystander to Report You?

While there’s always an outside possibility that a bystander might falsely accuse you of domestic violence out of spite or due to a vendetta, most bystanders are prompted to call in a report based on something they see or hear. Some possible examples include:

  • Hearing Sounds of Violence: Hearing sounds of shouting, crying, breaking glass, or other noises indicative of violence from the home. (This is the most common trigger of police calls, especially among neighbors.)
  • Visible Injuries: Observing suspicious bruises, cuts, burns, or other injuries on a person.
  • Verbal Abuse or Public Humiliation: If you notably insult, belittle, or publicly humiliate your significant other, some may suspect domestic abuse and call it in.
  • Vandalized or Broken Personal Property: Frequent instances of broken furniture, damaged walls, or other signs of physical violence in the home.
  • Emergency Medical Treatment: If a medical professional observes suspicious injuries during an ER visit–or if a victim frequently visits the emergency room or doctor’s office for treatment of injuries–they are required to report it if they suspect domestic violence is the cause.


The Role of Law Enforcement in Domestic Violence Cases

When a report of domestic violence is lodged, law enforcement agencies are generally expected to respond promptly. While the specifics can vary by jurisdiction, the standard protocol usually involves officers arriving at the reported location to assess the situation. They will separate the parties involved and conduct interviews to determine what transpired.

California is a “mandatory arrest” state. When law enforcement responds to a domestic violence call, if they observe probable cause to believe that domestic violence has occurred, such as visible injuries or property damage, they are required to make an arrest, regardless of whether the victim wishes to press charges. The person arrested is the person they most suspect committed the violence.


Steps to Take if a Bystander Reports You

If you find yourself under arrest for suspected domestic violence due to bystander intervention, your actions in the aftermath can significantly affect the outcome of your case. Some things to remember:

  • Cooperate with Law Enforcement: If the police come to question you, cooperate fully with them. Be respectful and follow their instructions.
  • Do Not Resist Arrest: If you are arrested, do not resist. Resisting arrest could lead to additional charges.
  • Remain Silent: It’s your right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court.
  • Obey Protective Orders: If a restraining order has been issued against you, respect it completely. Any form of contact could violate the order and result in further legal consequences.
  • Contact an Attorney: As soon as possible, contact a lawyer with experience in domestic violence cases. They can guide you through the legal process and help protect your rights.

If you need experienced legal representation for domestic violence charges in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, we are here to help. Call our office to schedule a consultation.

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