Linda entered her subdivision after her morning walk when, all of a sudden, she heard a woman screaming at the top of her lungs. Her shrieks were blood curdling, and Linda stopped abruptly, frozen in her tracks. She wondered if what she heard was real because she was wearing her earbuds while listening to music. The hollering continued as Linda removed her earbuds. The woman was yelling at the top of her voice, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” and then, “Get the F*#^K out!”
And just as suddenly as the commotion began, it stopped. Dead silence fell over the entire neighborhood. Linda, still unable to move, looked everywhere for the woman, but she couldn’t see anyone. She was sure it came from behind a house across the street from her own home. But which house, she wasn’t quite sure. Linda was visibly shaken and afraid for her safety, so hurried to get inside her house and instantly locked the door.
Linda called her husband Paul, who was out walking just a few blocks away on his own route. She told Paul what she had just heard and told him she didn’t know what to do. Is the woman alone? Is there a man trying to kill her? Is her assailant standing over her dead body? Is he roaming the subdivision right now brandishing a gun or a knife?
Paul told Linda to stay in the house and not to let anybody in until he got there. He then called 911. The dispatcher was sending two squad cars, and it would take about 10 minutes for the officers to arrive. Paul was now in the neighborhood, and he saw another resident, Martha, who was walking her dog. He asked her if she had heard the screaming, and she said yes. In fact, Martha lives on the same block and across the street from where the fight between a guy and his girlfriend was taking place. She told Paul that this sort of thing had been going on for the last three years.
Three officers in two cars wheeled into the subdivision, and Paul waved them onto the block. Martha pointed to the house of concern, and the police headed for it.
They jumped out, and one of them went around to the back. The other two headed for the front door, hands on the grips of their firearms. Someone answered the door, and they disappeared into the house.
While the police were inside trying to sort things out, Paul, Linda and Martha talked about what’s been going on and why Martha has never called the police to report this couple and their domestic brawls. Martha’s answers fell in line with what most neighbors say when asked the same question:
“I don’t know what to do or what to tell the cops.”
“I don’t want to cause a scene.”
“It’s not my business.”
“I don’t want my friend to be mad at me for squealing.”
“I’m sure someone else will step in.”
In reality, it’s simple fear that prevents neighbors and other witnesses from getting involved. Bystander paralysis can happen to anyone.
Pretty soon all three officers were in the front yard, and they surrounded a young man in his twenties. The female was still inside, and it was pretty obvious she wasn’t seriously injured or dead only because an ambulance hadn’t arrived on scene.
To the surprise of Linda, Paul and Martha, the young man was free to go back into the house in a bit, while the officers load up and head toward them. The cars stopped briefly, and the officer in charge rolled down the window to explain that the woman didn’t want to press charges, that no one was injured, and there weren’t any visible marks on her or the young male, and that they had no grounds to make an arrest. The biggest reason?
There was no history of domestic violence at the residence; the police had never been there for any reason.
The officer said, “In the future when you hear or see something like that going on, call the police immediately.” It’s how they build a case for future complaints.
There is no doubt that today’s society is more violent; more people are short-tempered, and domestic fights can occur even in neighborhoods like this one, that are typically considered “very safe” and “nothing never happens here.”
Don’t be afraid to call for help. It’s important to realize that bystanders can have a big impact. In many situations, bystanders have the opportunity to prevent crimes like sexual or physical assault from happening in the first place.
There are many resources available online to help educate bystanders on how to intervene when they see domestic violence or sexual assault in progress. Read these, share them with your friends, and talk about them with your family. It is so much easier to intervene if you don’t have to do it alone. Together we can domestic violence and sexual assault.
For real-life scenarios, tips on intervening, and additional bystander resources, visit:
The NO MORE Bystander Guide to Parties
NO MORE: Taking Action to Stop Violence
Written by Anonymous