May 14, 2010 -- Domestic violence is a serious problem that often takes place behind closed doors. One in four women will be victims, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even celebrities like pop singer Rihanna have fallen victim to abuse at the hands of a boyfriend.
But, what would you do, if in a public place, you saw a woman who showed unmistakable signs of physical abuse? Would you comfort her, call the police, or mind your own business?
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ABC's "What Would You Do?" decided to find out and set-up cameras at a diner in Union, N.J. Jennifer, an actress, portrayed our abuse victim. A professional make-up artist created the illusion of large bruises on Jennifer's face and cuts on her wrists. Chris, another actor, played her abuser.
Minutes after Jennifer took her seat, a concerned man, Adam Weiss, approached from a nearby table. Bending down, he asked softly, "You need help with something?"
In a sheepish voice, Jennifer answered, "I'm just waiting for my boyfriend to come inside."
The man's wife, Jamie Weiss, joined them at the table and invited our battered woman to join them while she waited. Looking away and on the verge of tears, Jennifer showed her apprehension, "He's going to be coming in soon and he's going to be upset if he sees me talking to you."
Watch "What Would You Do?" tonight at 9 p.m. ET
When the boyfriend walked in, the couple reluctantly retreated back to their table, but they kept a suspicious eye on them.
Almost immediately, the boyfriend began to verbally abuse his girlfriend. "What the hell was that about?" he snapped. "What's the matter, are you stupid? Look at me!" Then he reached across the table and grasped the wrist of his girlfriend - - and that's all it took.
It was a galvanizing moment. Suddenly a burly man was on his feet and shoved the abusive boyfriend out of harm's way. Within seconds our security guard -- an ex-cop -- stepped in.
When the dust settled, we told Weiss about the scenario. Asked why he intervened, his response was simple, "It's my nature. When there's something not right, you try and fix it."
"[Weiss] was really impressive. He noticed her crying. He saw the bruise, so he intervened even before the abuser showed up," said Raquel Bergen, a professor of sociology at St. Joseph's University, who watched our social experiment from a control vehicle nearby.
Bergen was encouraged to see that men got involved. "I think that sends such a powerful message to other men that you can be involved," she said. "We need to challenge other men to do the right thing, to step in and say, 'That's not cool.'"
Jealousy Turns to Rage at Breakfast
Domestic violence cuts across all economic, ethnic and racial lines. We wondered what would happen if we replaced our white victim, with an African American actor, Mari. With make-up, she too bared the unmistakable scars of an abusive relationship.
The set-up was the same and upon arrival, actor Hassan, the boyfriend, began to yell at his girlfriend, "I noticed you look at that guy. You thought I was on the phone...Look at me, you think I'm playin' with you?"
His jealousy quickly turned to rage over the breakfast order: "Stop the fake tears. Call the waitress and get this orange juice outta here. Order my food!" Hassan yelled.
We told the boyfriend to step away from the table to use the restroom. No sooner did he leave, then out of nowhere two women who had witnessed the whole scenario rushed to Mari's side. One of the girls with an eye on the bathroom door asked Mari, "Who is that?"
With a look of fear in her eyes she responded, "My boyfriend, I'm scared of him."
The women pleaded with Mari to leave before the boyfriend returned. Unable to get her out the door, they decided to confront the situation head on.
Women Confront Abusive Boyfriend
As the boyfriend approached the table, one girl pointedly said, "You're an idiot."
Hassan told the women it was none of their business and instead tried to get Mari to leave, "We're gonna go, alright?"
One girl quickly said, "don't touch her because the cops are almost here." Her friend also began to yell, "Stop!! Get off her."
Before things heated up, we decided to introduce ourselves and let them in on our experiment. It turned out they were cousins, Lynn Fonseca and Cristina Laurenco, and were overcome with emotion.
"I didn't know if he was going to take her home and beat her to death," Fonseca said, before bursting into tears.
Our actress Mari was deeply touched. "I appreciated the love for a stranger ...putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation," she said.
But what happens when our battered women trade in the "nice-girl" clothes for something a bit more provocative. The answer may surprise you.
Find out what happens on "What Would You Do?" Friday, May 14, at 9 p.m. ET.