How to help a neighbour you suspect may be a victim of domestic violence

With South Africa having one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world, the unfortunate reality is that many of us may have witnessed or will likely witness it in our lifetime. Despite its prevalence in our society, many people feel hesitant or fearful to intervene when we know or suspect someone is experiencing domestic violence.

by | Nov 26

3 min read

This sad reality was showcased in a 2010 video experiment conducted by People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA). In the video, a man plays the drums from a house within a Johannesburg complex. Multiple neighbours can be seen knocking on his door and asking him to be considerate and stop playing the instrument. A few days later, the drummer plays a recording loudly from a speaker inside the house that sounds like a couple engaged in a domestic dispute. A woman can be heard screaming throughout. Not a single neighbour calls for help or knocks on the door despite not knowing that the noise was simply a recording.

It is of course necessary to note that many people may be reluctant to intervene for fear of their own safety. Indeed, one shouldn’t confront a potential abuser directly.

So how do you help a neighbour you suspect may be a victim of domestic violence?

Call for help anonymously

Make sure you’re in a safe location, and contact the South African Police (SAPS), private security company or safety panic application of your choice. Tell them that you suspect or know a neighbour is a victim of domestic abuse. While the SAPS has a duty to respond to complaints of domestic violence, they may not necessarily respond to a request for assistance, or the responding police officers may not handle the incident with the care required to protect both the victim as well as the neighbour who made the call. Ideally, the responder – whether from the SAPS or a private security company – should not tell the residents at the centre of the dispute who contacted them. Rather, they should say they’ve received a complaint.

If you so much as suspect a neighbour might be in danger, don’t hesitate to call for assistance. If you’re wrong, there’s no harm and life continues without your neighbours knowing you made the call. If however, you’re correct, you could protect a victim from further abuse and potentially save a life.

Make resources accessible and visible

If you live in a complex or apartment block, consider printing and sticking resources that can help women or victims of abuse around the building. These could be the contact details of the neighbourhood’s private security company, the nearest police station or women’s shelters in the area.

For more information on how to support a victim of abuse, download this PDF from POWA.