Sometimes we find ourselves in more immediate need of help. While the resources on this website are not actively managed or updated, there are still a few that may be able to help in times of more urgent need. Below you'll find links and information if you're not feeling safe (meaning that you're having thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else), if you're wondering how to file report of abuse or neglect, wondering if there are options for reporting domestic violence, or simply need someone to talk to.
If You're Feeling Unsafe Right Now
If you are currently having active thoughts about wanting to hurt yourself or committing suicide and don't feel safe, please call 911 immediately. It's a matter of life and death; your life and death. You are worth making a phone call!
Many people do not know that you can indeed call 911 in such an instance, but you can and should. While 911 is not in a position to provide counseling, if action is needed to stop yourself or someone else from taking their own life... please call immediately.
While hotlines, chat features, and other services are intended for people who are experiencing difficult times, which can include suicidal thoughts or ideas, they are not intended for those on the verge of engaging in any harmful behavior. In such cases, having someone you trust take you to the emergency room or calling 911 is the best option.
Still, if this is something that you're not willing to do, please consider connect with someone through a hotline or online chat by calling or texting 988. While this is may not be ideal, it's far better than doing nothing. No matter how bad it seems, you don't have to go through this alone. Your life has value and there are people literally waiting to help you through this difficult time. It can get better, even if right now you can't see a way forward.
Is Domestic Violence Reportable?
Many people wonder if domestic violence is reportable the same way that child abuse is. After all, if one form of abuse can be reported, why shouldn't all types be reportable? The short answer is that domestic Violence is not reportable- at least not in the same way that child abuse is. But that doesn't mean that there's nothing you can do.
Filing a report is a legal issue. It has to do with legal responsibility and not the emotional effects, consequences, or trauma that abuse (of any kind) can cause.
Child abuse is reportable because children are not legally considered to be mature enough to personally address the abuse/neglect, or necessarily even understand what's happening to them. Typically child abuse is caused by an adult who is supposed to be caring for them, such as a parent or other relative.
Likewise, older adults may not be as capable due to physical issues and in some cases mental decline associated with age. Thus it is also possible to report elder abuse.
Adults on the other hand (generally defined as those over 18 and under 60 years of age) are legally deemed to be competent and responsible for themselves, except in cases of certain disabilities. Known as vulnerable adult abuse or neglect, this too is reportable.
However, there is no domestic violence reporting hotline where you can call to file a report if your neighbor, friend, or other loved one is being so abused.
In cases of domestic violence, or adult abuse, it is not the (legally determined) role of government officials to decide whether or not it remains safe for a person to continue living in their current situation. Adults are assumed to be able to make their own decisions about what is and what is not a safe living environment.
At any time however if things become violent or a person's safety is at risk, the police may be called. Even if you're unsure of what's actually happening behind closed doors, it's usually better to be safe than sorry. The police will investigate any reports they receive of suspected domestic abuse and act accordingly, including separating the two parties if necessary, even if only temporarily.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between what the law says about the capabilities of an adult in an abusive relationship and how emotionally capable that person may feel. Often those in abusive relationships are so emotionally and mentally broken down that it becomes exceptionally difficult for them to reach out for help on their own or even acknowledge how bad the situation has become.
If you're close to the person being abused, but they're not in immediate danger, often the best thing that you can do is to be prepared to be available. Things can change quickly and dramatically. A person who is "okay" right now, may not be tomorrow. While they may not be ready to do anything about their situation at the moment, having you as a trusted friend or relative can be a true blessing if/when they do become ready.
In the meantime, consider educating yourself. Learn to recognize the warning signs and come up with a plan in the event that you get called upon for help. For example, where can that person go to be safe tonight if needed that the other person won't think to look for them? Are there children involved and if so, who can watch them for a few days? Can you help the person access some cash if their joint bank account is closed, use a phone that won't be tracked, find some clothes, and pick up any essential medications? Imagine helping the person plan a three day trip. This will help you to address the essentials that will buy some time.
What to Know About Filing a Report
Filing a report of abuse or neglect is a serious responsibility and if you've never called to make such a report, it's understandable that you might be anxious, nervous, and/or have questions.
Who Can File a Report?
Anybody can file a report of suspected abuse as long as you have reasonable cause to suspect that someone is being or has been harmed. You do not need to be a professional, related to the person, or even know them personally.
Some professionals such as therapists, medical personnel, and guidance counselors, along with educational staff such as faculty and university staff members, as well as other individuals including but not limited to clergy and law enforcement officers, may be required to file reports of suspected abuse or neglect. These individuals are known as mandated reporters. Because of their positions, background, and training, reporting is not an option, but a mandate. Non-professionals such as friends, neighbors, and family members are encouraged to file a report when appropriate, but are not legally required to do so.
What is Reportable?
Unfortunately this is not as straightforward a question as you might like. It's not as simple as saying something like hitting that causes a bruise is reportable while hitting without causing a bruise is not.
There are a few important concepts however that may help you to determine whether or not to file a report.
Abuse and Neglect
You may have heard of both abuse and neglect, however you may not know the difference between the two. Abuse involves actively causing or bringing harm to another person by doing something that should not be done. An example of this could be intentionally pushing a child down the stairs.
Neglect on the other hand, refers to passively bringing harm to another person by not doing something that should be done. For example, refusing to feed or provide cold weather clothing for an elderly adult who is under someone's care could be construed as neglectful behavior.
Both abuse and neglect are reportable. A person does not have to endure serious physical harm for an incident to be deemed reportable. The goal is to intervene before things get to that point.
In Good Faith
When making a decision about whether or not to make a report, you should also keep in mind the concept of acting "in good faith". This means that you genuinely believe that a person is in danger. There is clearly an inherent degree of discretion that's involved, and those investigating reports understand this.
For instance, children will get hurt from time to time. Their enthusiasm may lead them to run into a tree or trip on the leg of a table. So seeing cuts and scrapes does not necessarily mean there is abuse happening. However if you see a theme of repeated injuries on a normally careful child and they get nervous while trying to hide their injuries, you may have more reason to be suspicious, even if you have no hard evidence.
The key is that when you make a report you're doing so for the benefit of another person because you honestly and genuinely believe that abuse or neglect is occurring. In other words, you're acting in good faith.
Legal Jurisdiction: Where You Live
Making things more confusing is that what is considered abuse or neglect in one place may not be somewhere else. Local officials in one state or county may determine a particular act to be abusive or neglectful, while another jurisdiction may rule otherwise.
Consider a child who witnesses their parents having an argument where household objects get thrown around the room. In one place allowing the child to witness a bad enough fight may be a reportable incident even if there's no physical harm to anyone. In another location, it may only be a reportable incident if someone gets injured.
So part of what determines whether or not something is reportable and whether it really is abuse or neglect is the context of the incident and the legal precedents set in previous rulings in the jurisdiction where you would be making a report.
What If I'm Still Unsure?
Making a report about suspected abuse or neglect is a serious decision and will likely result in an investigation. Therefore it's understandable that you wouldn't want to make a mistake.
Many people do not realize that you can actually call your local reporting hotline just to get information. Before you make an official report, you can simply ask questions. Ask them a hypothetical question. Ask them if this or that scenario would be reportable. Most agencies will be understanding and patient with you. They understand the seriousness of the issue and want to help you to make an informed decision and to understand your options.
How Do I Make a Report?
Once you decide to make a report of suspected abuse, you simply make a phone call. Depending on where you live you may be calling a state or county level agency. You should be able to easily find the appropriate number online. A good place to start is one of the following links depending on whether you're calling about suspected abuse of a child or abuse of an adult.
Domestic violence and abuse against adults not deemed "vulnerable" is not reportable in the same manner. Click here to learn more.
What Will They Ask?
When you call to make a report, you're basically asking for an investigation to begin. They will ask you for the name of the person or people you believe are being abused or neglected along with any contact information you may have for them. They'll also want to know who you believe is causing the abuse/neglect.
They will ask what you know and how you know it. For instance, did you personally witness something happen, personally see symptoms (e.g. bruises), or did someone else tell you what they saw?
They'll also ask a little about yourself. How did you find out what you know? Are you a neighbor who watched from your backyard? Were you sitting in the stands of a soccer game when you saw something happen? Did you intervene in any way? Are you a mandated reporter? What does your gut tell you about what was happening? Do you genuinely believe that this person is in a dangerous situation?
They will also likely want your name and contact information should they need to follow up or ask you any more questions. If you're concerned about sharing your personal information, you can always ask up front if they'll allow you to file an anonymous report. Whether they allow anonymous reporting or not will depend on the specific location you're calling.
What Happens After a Report is Made?
After you've made a report, an investigation will commence. The appropriate local agency will interview the affected parties including if possible both the accused and the possible subject of the abuse or neglect. Depending on the outcome of that investigation recommendations will be made and appropriate action taken.
Counseling may be recommended for an individual or the family. Medical care may be initiated. In extreme cases a person may be removed from a home, though this is typically a last resort and not something that social service workers want to do unless absolutely necessary. In other cases, the investigation may determine that there is no evidence to support the allegations. In this case, no further action would be taken. Your report will remain on file for possible future reference. Just because there is insufficient evidence today doesn't mean that your report combined with future events wouldn't constitute a reason to take action later on.
What Happens If I'm Wrong?
Sometimes what looks like abuse or neglect is not, and sometimes we're just wrong. As concerned family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. we won't always have all of the details. Working with incomplete information can lead to mistakes. The agencies that accept reports are fully aware of this. They also want people to err on the side of caution. In other words, they would rather that not all reports lead to actual cases of abuse or neglect than to not hear about legitimate abuse or neglect where intervention is needed.
So long as you act in good faith, as explained above, you shouldn't have to worry about any legal action being taken against you. It is only in cases of malicious actions where a person may intentionally make false reports to harm the reputation of someone else that you should have to worry about potentially being sued. The law is designed to protect people making honest reports in good faith.
Will They Tell me the Outcome of the Investigation?
You will most likely not be told the outcome of the investigation. That information will usually be held confidential. There may be some exceptions, such as if you're a relative and social services is looking to you to temporarily house an abused or neglected child. But for the most part, do not expect to be told anything after you've made your report.
Obviously if you made a phone call, you have an interest in how things turn out. But this is one of those cases in life where we have to just accept not knowing the outcome. Of course, if you feel it appropriate you can always call again if what you "in good faith" believe to be abuse or neglect continues to occur.