Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When bad neighbors mean no fences

Prudence (whose Thursday column must have come out early because of the holiday--more reasons to be thankful!) responds to a query that, sadly, comes up in the columns more often than any of us would like: a reader who is almost certainly a witness to domestic abuse wants to know if/how to intervene, without further endangering the victim, or themselves.

Prudie's response is right, I think, giving the writer, who is clearly disturbed by what's going on, an extra kick in the pants to make the necessary phone call. But there's one thing in her response that stands out as odd to me. See if you can find it:

Dear Prudence,
I am concerned about an ongoing situation involving my next-door neighbors. My wife and I moved into our apartment about six months ago. Not long after moving in, we were alarmed to hear our next-door neighbors, a married couple with whom we share a wall, shouting very loudly at each other during a heated fight. Since then, the arguments have continued with great frequency, and the language from him is so loud and abusive that we are now starting to feel as if we should call the police, especially because they have a baby, and we sometimes hear crashing sounds. But if we call the police, they will know that it was either we who called or their other next-door neighbors (there are only a few apartments in the building), and I don't want that lunatic coming after us. When is it time to call in help?

—Next-Door Nightmare

Dear Next-Door,
Now is the time to call. Once, years ago, I lived below a similarly abusive husband, who regularly screamed vile things. One day, I heard the wife come home, cry out, and fall to the floor, which was followed by her hysterical sobs. I feared she had been attacked by an intruder, so I called the police. They came and left, and when I called the station to find out what happened, I was told: "It was nothing. Just a domestic." The couple went on to have a baby and move away, and I've sometimes wondered about that miserable little family. Fortunately, today there's a different attitude about "Just a domestic." Your call doesn't mean he'll stop, or that she'll leave him, but it does put them in the system and him on notice. You can call anonymously. And if you later feel in any way threatened by him, immediately make a follow-up call to the police.


Do you see it? "I feared she had been attacked by an intruder, so I called the police." Really, Prudence? After hearing this going on above you for weeks, months, whatever, when the screaming escalated to violence, your first thought was, "Must be a robber"? I don't buy it. Which makes me wonder why she felt compelled to say that. It sounds like she's trying to justify her decision to call the police (if she'd known there was no intruder, she wouldn't have called?), which is odd, since the point of her response is to convince the ambivalent writer to make the call, not let it go. Weird.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

Hmm... Wow.

I think, more often than not, that people feel the need to justify their decision to report cases of abuse in any context. I'm not sure why this is. It may stem from the fact that the police and organizations like DCFS do need clear proof of sustained abuse in order to do anything about it, and so people wait until they, for sure, know it's abuse before they report it.

Although, I will say that it is possible to argue very loudly without it being abusive. Not that I would have any first-hand knowledge of this. ;) But it would be awful if anyone called the cops because of a loud argument. But where do you draw the line on that?

That said, after hearing a PATTERN of screaming and what is likely abuse, I'm not sure why anyone would hesitate long enough to even write an advice columnist and wait for a response. If it is clear to you it is abuse, report it!