Know what to do if you witness domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is not a private matter. If you have witnessed domestic abuse, or a victim has confided in you, your support could save their life. In an emergency, call the police on 17 or send them an SMS to 114.

Verified by Women for Women France on 17/09/2023

In emergency situations

If you think there is a serious and immediate threat, call the police on 17, even if you are unsure. 

If you feel safe to do so, intervene to stop the abuse as follows:

  • stay as calm as possible
  • engage the support of other witnesses 
  • create a diversion to distract the perpetrator, if possible.

Your response must be in proportion to the threat: an aggressive intervention may lead to an escalation of the abuse and put everyone involved in danger.

In non-emergency situations

People experiencing domestic abuse often feel lost and isolated. Your support could save their life.

Everyone reacts differently to domestic abuse. All reactions to trauma are normal: denial, anger, silence, distress, crying, shouting, and even contact with the perpetrator.

  • It can be very difficult to know what to say and what to do when you witness abuse, to the point where it can be tempting to ignore it. But it is absolutely crucial to be there for the victim. 

    By doing the following, you could save their life:

    • Listen to them, believe them, support them. Ask them if they are OK and if there is anything you can do for them.
    • Reassure them that there are solutions to regain their safety and independence. 
    • Explain that the only person responsible for the abuse is the perpetrator.
    • Advise them to call the police on 17 if they feel in danger, or offer to go with them to the police station to make a complaint.
    • Share reliable sources of information like this website with them so that they understand how abuse works and know their rights.
    • Offer to make a written witness statement which will be useful the day they decide to make a complaint. 
    • You can report violence online to the police on the dedicated chat service (available in many languages).  
    • You can keep a record of the events you witness on the “Mémo de vie” website, a confidential and secure online space.
    • Respect their values and cultural or religious choices.
    • Let them make their own decisions at their own pace.
    • If they don't speak French and you have given them a number or email address of a service that is only available in French, offer to help them contact these services.
  • Our society is only just beginning to understand domestic abuse. We all have a role to play. 

    Certain attitudes need to be avoided to maintain a relationship of trust with the person experiencing abuse and not put their life in danger:

    • Do not question the reality of the abuse. Do not minimise the abuse. 
    • Do not judge them or tell them what they should do. They are probably feeling confused and need time to decide what to do next. 
    • Do not defend their partner or try to make excuses for them.
    • Do not make them do anything if they say they don't feel ready.
    • Do not give advice on a subject that you are not qualified in. Laws and measures regularly change, and there are international complexities too.
    • Do not contact the perpetrator as this could put the victim’s life at risk. The perpetrator is also capable of manipulating you into believing them.
    • Do not share information with anyone else without the consent of the person experiencing the abuse, as this could put their life in danger.
    • Do not attempt to tell them that their cultural or religious choices are not normal in France.
    • Do not interrupt them if they are having difficulty expressing themselves in a language that is not their own.
  • In some cases, French law requires you to disclose the facts you are aware of:

    • It is illegal not to report a crime when it is still possible to prevent it or limit its impact, or if the perpetrator is likely to commit new crimes that could be prevented (applicable law: Article 434-1 of the “Code pénal”).
    • It is illegal not to provide assistance to a person in danger, known as “non-assistance à personne en danger” (applicable law: Article 223-6 of the “Code pénal”). 
    • It is illegal not to report a crime against a minor or any person that is vulnerable due to their age, illness, disability, physical or mental disability or pregnancy (applicable law: Article 434-3 of the “Code pénal”).

Find support

In France, there are many services that can support you, give you advice, and assist you with procedures and paperwork. Most of them are free of charge.

  • This telephone counselling service is intended for people facing all types of violence and those who support them.

    • This service is free of charge.
    • On the telephone, a trained counsellor will listen to you and support you. They can then direct you to relevant services near you.
    • Languages available: interpretation in all languages.
    • Contact: call 3919, available 24/7. The call will not appear on your telephone bill.
    • For people who are deaf, have difficulties hearing, people with aphasia or who have language impairments, you can access a service adapted for your needs by clicking on the telephone icon at the bottom right of the website
  • The role of the police is to ensure the safety of all people, whatever their situation, even for people without French residency rights. A police officer will be able to advise you and offer assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can contact the police in four main ways:

    • By telephone: call 17, a free number. Languages available: interpretation in all languages.
    • By text message: send an SMS to 114 in French, specifying your exact address.
    • Online: chat service. This service is available in many languages.
    • Go to any police station, i.e. either a “commissariat de police” or a “brigade de gendarmerie”. You can find the closest police station to you on this website. If you don't speak French, they will need to find you an interpreter, this can take some time.
  • There are two services that can assist you in the case of a medical emergency in France. 

    The ambulance service called “Service d’aide médicale urgente (SAMU)” and the emergency services called “pompiers”. If you need emergency medical attention, they can help you quickly and take you to a nearby hospital.

    • In the event of a life-threatening emergency, you do not need to be registered for state health insurance or have valid residency rights to use these services.
    • If there are fees because they estime it was not an emergency, these fees can be covered by your state and private health insurance.
    • Languages available: interpretation in all languages.
    • Contact: call 112, a free number available 24/7.

While the utmost care has gone into providing you with the most accurate and up to date information, this page is not intended to replace legal or professional advice. Laws and procedures change regularly so it is important to consult qualified professionals.

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