Step Up When You See Abuse

First, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. Reading this article is an important step toward educating yourself about family violence and abuse. If you haven’t heard of Where’s The Line? before, it’s a first-of-its-kind campaign that launched in 2015. Our goal is educate the community about how to recognize and appropriately address signs of family violence and abuse.

Where’s The Line? is known as an active bystander campaign. But who is a bystander? In this instance, it’s anyone who thinks they’ve witnessed or suspected abuse, but isn’t directly involved in the abuse. Everyone will likely be a bystander at some point in their lives, whether that’s seeing their high school friend become involved in an unhealthy dating relationship, or seeing a child being verbally or physically abused in a grocery store. Where’s The Line? is meant to empower bystanders to take action by providing confidential answers and advice about abuse. Based in central Ohio, the resource line is managed by an Information Coordinator Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Individuals can call 844-234-LINE (5463), text 87028 or chat at

It is important for everyone to be able to recognize the signs of family violence. Family violence is an umbrella term for child maltreatment and neglect, teen dating abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse. Unfortunately, it’s more common than you might think. Here are some nationwide quick statistics* (see footnotes for sources):

Child Abuse and Neglect

  • A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds
  • Five children die each day from child abuse and neglect

Teen Dating Abuse

  • 1 in 3 girls is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner
  • 1 in 4 teens is harassed through digital technology

Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence

  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner
  • Over 60 percent of female victims of stalking are stalked by a current or former intimate partner

Elder Abuse

  • 1 in 10 Americans ages 60+ have experienced a form of elder abuse
  • In nearly 2/3 of elder abuse and neglect cases, the abuser is a family member (adult children or spouses)

So what do these numbers tell us? We all likely know or will know someone who is directly impacted by abuse. Sometimes, bystanders don’t step up when they see something for fear of being wrong. To that, we say, “But what if you’re right, and you’re the only person who will make the call?”

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, you might be wondering “What can I do to help”? Bystanders should remember the three “Rs.” This stands for recognize, respond and refer. The first step in helping to break the cycle of abuse is recognizing the signs and behaviors. Abuse can be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, digital or resource restrictive. It’s important to know that all types of abuse have something in common: power and control. LoveIsRespect created a Power and Control Wheel, which is a tool to explain different ways a partner can use power and control to manipulate a relationship.

The Center for Family Safety and Healing provides details on how to recognize if a child, teen, adult or elderly person is being abused or neglected:

Signs of Child Abuse/Neglect
Signs of Teen Dating Abuse
Signs of Domestic Violence
Signs of Elder Abuse

Be alert to things that make you feel uncomfortable. Once you’re able to recognize signs of unhealthy relationships and abuse, or a specific event where abuse is occurring, then you can do your part as an active bystander by responding to it. It’s important to consider your own safety first, as well as the safety of others, when you feel that a situation may escalate and become violent or dangerous. For example, if you see a couple arguing in a restaurant, and one of the partners begins slamming objects and making threats to the other partner, it wouldn’t be safe for you or other bystanders to directly intervene. In a violent situation, responding can mean calling 911 or security. However, if there is a scenario where your friend might be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, responding might mean talking to your friend one-on-one, letting him or her know you’re concerned about their well-being and safety, and addressing the unhealthy behaviors that you’ve witnessed.

When thinking about responding to an act of abuse or violence, think to yourself, “If it was my friend or family member who was being abused in this situation, would I want someone to act?”

So now, you’ve learned that you need to first be able to recognize the signs and behaviors of abuse and family violence, and then respond appropriately, always considering your own safety and the safety of others around you. We’ve covered two of the three “Rs”. One more to go!

The third and final “R” is refer. There are many resources available, both local and national, to help victims of abuse. For example, if you suspect child abuse and neglect, did you know that anyone can make a report anonymously to a child protective service agency? Or, if you know a teen or young adult who might be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, they can check out loveisrespect where advocates are available 24/7 via 1-866-331-9474, text “loveis” to 22522 or live chat at In this case, you might also go to a trusted adult, such as a parent or school counselor, to let them know that you’re concerned for your classmate.

Or maybe you know an adult in your life who is trying to leave an abusive relationship, but isn’t sure where to start. You can refer them to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or live chat via the website, where there are advocates available 27/4 to provide answers to questions, help with safety planning and more.

Or, if you’re really not sure what to do when it comes to responding and referring, you can always contact Where’s The Line? for anonymous answers and advice.

No matter the situation or who is involved, there are many resources available to victims and bystanders. The Center for Family Safety and Healing houses a virtual list of local and national resources, which includes information on child abuse and neglect, teen dating abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, mandating reporting, stalking and how to help an abuser. View the complete list here:

We all play a role in breaking the cycle of family violence and abuse. You can help raise awareness by sharing this article and our website, with friends and family, so that they too can become empowered, active bystanders.

*Please see statistic sources cited below.

Child Abuse and Neglect

Teen Dating Abuse

Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence

Elder Abuse


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