Should one ignore the scream in the night?

2014-03-23 10:00

There’s a tweet that’s been haunting me since I read it three weeks ago via @phillipdewet: “Stats say if you hear a woman scream in the night, odds are it is domestic violence, not robbery. In rich neighbourhoods, too.”

I’ve just moved to a new neighbourhood and a couple stays on the same property as me. I know very little about them. What I do know is the man is verbally abusive towards his partner.

I don’t want to know this, but I can’t shut my ears any longer.

I haven’t heard her scream in the night – yet. I fight against adding that “yet” to the end of the sentence. I don’t want that “yet” to be inevitable.

But I also know while a scream signifies something is terribly wrong, the absence of a scream doesn’t mean everything is all right.

So, I haven’t heard her scream in the night. But on many nights I have heard him yelling at her. “F**k off. F**k off. F**k you.”

There are other words between the expletives. But these are the ones that embed themselves in my mind. These are the words that most clearly constitute “emotional, verbal and psychological abuse”, as defined in the Domestic Violence Act.

It took me a month until I realised enough is enough and went over to call this man out on his behaviour. A month until I called the security company, which sent around some guards to give him a talking to. Next time I won’t wait another month.

Next time I’ll call the police.

Why did it take me so long? There is no easy answer to this question.

At night, I lie awake and cross-examine myself: it’s “only” shouting. Am I justified in calling security or the police? What if I make the situation worse?

In the morning, more doubts creep in. I hear him telling her to enjoy her day. Did I really hear his shouting last night? Is it my place to intervene in someone else’s domestic affairs?

And, although I’m not on the receiving end of my neighbour’s aggression, it affects me too. I live in fear, not of the “imagined threat of a black stranger”, but of the very real, middle class white man who lives across the garden from me.

You’re probably wondering where the woman is in all of this. I went around the next day to speak to her. I gave her the number for Lifeline’s stop gender violence helpline.

I asked her to call me if she needed help. I don’t know what else to do. Since the other night, there hasn’t been another incident – yet.

Mallinson is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @tcmallinson. Lifeline stop gender violence toll-free helpline: 0800?150?150

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