Living Columns & Blogs

Victims of domestic violence are our neighbors, not strangers. Here’s how to help them

I’ll never forget the first time I realized that a victim of domestic violence – a woman later murdered by her husband – was my neighbor. She lived around the corner from me, just down the street from where my children played with their friends. When I heard the full story of Amy Homan McGee, killed by her husband in 2001, I suddenly realized that the first time she called the police, the first time she reached out for help, she was my neighbor. I did not know her; I did not know what was happening in her home. But as I later drove past the house where the violence occurred in 1998, on the way to my safe and peaceful home, I was reminded that for a brief time, she was my neighbor.

In 2018-19, Centre Safe provided domestic violence services to 1,021 of our neighbors. Sixty eight of our neighbors and 41 of their children stayed in our emergency shelter when their homes became too violent to live in. We helped 115 of our neighbors file for protective orders from the court. It is important to realize that these women, men and children are our neighbors, not just metaphorically, but literally. They live in our neighborhoods, their children go to school and play with our children, they sit next to us in church and synagogue, they work at the next desk. Sometimes when we speak of those who use the services of Centre Safe as victims, or even as survivors (which they certainly are) of domestic violence, it distances them from us. We don’t necessarily experience a sense of responsibility to victims or survivors. They are often connected to us only in the abstract.

Neighbors are different. We are connected to our neighbors, for better or worse. We feel some responsibility for them and for their children. We want them to be safe in their homes, if only so that we can feel safe in our own. Neighbors have some claim on our lives when we are part of a community.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and provides us an opportunity to explore what it means to be a good neighbor when someone you know is experiencing violence in their home. So here are some suggestions about ways how to help:

  • If you hear or see signs that someone is being abused, call the police. They will know what to do and how best to respond immediately.

  • If you think your neighbor, friend or co-worker is being abused, ask. If you bring it up, they’ll know you are someone they can talk to.

  • If they do talk to you, don’t be afraid to express your concern for their safety, but do support the decisions they make (even if you don’t agree with them) and ask how you can help.

  • Let them know that when they are ready for help, you are there.

  • Know what resources are available (1-877-234-5050 is always a good one).

  • Support the people in your community who offer those resources.

  • Teach your children, and model in your life, that violence is never acceptable in relationships.

Sometimes our neighbors look, talk and act like us. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we know who they are and what happens in their houses. Sometimes we don’t. But a cry for help from any of our neighbors, around the corner or across town, should bring compassion and assistance. Our neighbor’s life may depend on it.

Anne K. Ard is the executive director of Centre Safe, Centre County’s domestic violence/rape crisis center, 140 W. Nittany Ave., State College. Contact her at 238-7066 or at