Look over your fence

I live in a nice area of Melbourne. Nice in the way I mean that ugly things don’t happen here in out in public. It’s a million dollar suburb, and a million dollars buys your privacy and silence. That was until last Thursday night.

The shouting started before I went to bed. I was tired. I ignored it. The shouting between a man and a woman. They sounded young. Just a couple fighting, I thought. Then the shouting became louder, and more intense. It was hard to make out the words as they passed our fence. We have a big fence. Most of the houses here have the same fences. It’s that old privacy thing again. The yelling continued down the road until it was out of earshot, so I rolled over in bed and slept.

I was awoken an hour later by the same yelling. The venom in his voice shot a chill through me. He called her a cunt, a waste of space, an idiot, a whore. According to him she couldn’t do anything right, she should just fuck off. The hatred was pure and her despair was evident. I sat up in bed and listened and then they disappeared again.

I was drifting off to sleep again when I heard the crying. The deep guttural sobbing. I flew out of bed, and my husband climbed our fence, made to keep out moments like this, and asked if she was okay. She wasn’t. She had all her worldly possessions with her in a single suitcase and was wearing only one shoe.

I opened the gate and stepped into the battlefield. I wasn’t wearing any shoes, just a yellow nightgown. I sat with her. I was cold. I tried to help her. I offered to ring someone to come and get her. She had no one and nowhere to go, she claimed. She had left him, she stated bravely but I knew she would return. According to statistics, it takes at least nine times for this to happen until the cycle is over. The cat with nine lives, I think.

And then I saw him, walking down the street, carrying a set of crutches in his hand like a weapon. His mate arrived in a car and demanded she get in. She refused. The crutches were for her, I realised, as she tried to hobble up the street with her suitcase. He had taken away everything from her, including her ability to walk.

He looked at her disdainfully, and apologised to me for her behaviour. I didn’t know what to say. He scared me. I rang the police. My husband watched to ensure the men didn’t hurt her as she argued with them. Then the fighting escalated. I rang the police again. They were on their way, I was told.

I felt sick. She was young. Too much makeup but pretty underneath the war paint. He was short and wiry, like a terrier. I wanted so much more for her at that moment than she had ever wanted for herself.

The police arrived. I retreated to the safety of my bunker and my husband and I lay in bed and wondered about her. The anger in the man bought back the traumatic memories of witnessing violence in my husband’s childhood. The despair in the girl bought back my anger at women who lose themselves to men because they are afraid of their tempers, their reaction and sometimes their fists.

And then my anger grew as I realised not one person on the street where I lived had come to help her. Not one. Not a light had turned on. Not a curtain had twitched. People didn’t want to know. I was disgusted with my neighborhood. I was disgusted with the people I lived next door to. When my dog was killed on the road last year, the screams of my children bought out the street in droves. People came to see if we were ok. Cards were dropped in the mailbox.

When a young girl is weeping on the pavement, does she not deserve the same care?

Denial is the food that abuse survives on.  Physical, mental, verbal and emotional. Denial by her for the times it has happened before, denial by him, and denial by the community that ignored her.

I think about the murder in Melbourne a few years ago when a heroic man tried to save a girl who was being abused in a busy street. He was shot for trying to help and died. I know my husband would have tried to help if he was there. Maybe even I would have, I know I would have at least called the police. Or the woman who was stabbed and burned alive at a petrol station by her husband and a bystander (off duty policeman) recording it as ‘evidence’ on their phone instead of trying to help.

The sad fact is that abuse is all around us with the people we know and love. Maybe their fences are high and we can’t see in but this doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Denial does not stop abuse.

I thought about the young shoeless girl outside my house. I always hoped that someone would help my daughter or nieces if they were in trouble. I felt let down by the world.

On this International Women’s Day I send out a prayer for people to help other women in crisis. That abuse will no longer be a taboo subject. That victims will come forward and allow conversations to start. Solutions to be found. Healing to happen.

Be brave. Stand up. Look over your fence.


8 thoughts on “Look over your fence”

  1. i commend you on your behaviour – if commend is the right word. i admire it, certainly.

    i have stepped into moments and arguments like that and i have thought the exact same thing as you – why don’t people help more?

    because it’s really basic instinct stuff. no one knows how to deal with it. i’d bet that when husband jumped the fence he was thinking “i’m not the person to be doing this and i have no idea what i’m going to do but i’m doing it anyway because i feel i should”.

    it’s really a weird feeling and you’re acting on your base protective instinct and there is never any training provided for it. and some people just aren’t comfortable acting on that.

    it’s a good thing to have that instinct, i think. you can be a perfect gentleman or the master of your industry but to step in and protect or help a stranger takes something bigger, better and far less recognisable or quantifiable.

    kudos. karma, you’re good people.

    1. You are right about the basic instinct.
      I love that part you wrote at the end. “You can be a perfect gentleman or the master of your industry but to step in and protect or help a stranger takes something bigger, better and far less recognisable or quantifiable.”

      I applaud you.

  2. For the very same reasons, if you’re in trouble don’t yell “help”, yell “fire”. People will come to ‘rubber-neck’ and watch a fire, but wouldn’t consider putting themselves in danger to help a stranger. I like to hope that I’m different, and (like you) would’ve helped the girl on the street that night.

  3. It’s a funny thing (not haha, but peculiar). My father once told me, and then made me promise to uphold, that if I am on my own and see someone in trouble (like a car), do not stop. Call for help but do not stop. This coming from a man who supported my education in self-defence, including wrestling with him and my brothers in the backyard.

    Now I consider myself a fairly independent woman, and I am endeavouring to educate my children in the same way. However, to this day, I still follow my father’s sage advice. And that in itself is a shame. Same applies if I’m only with my young children. To put it simply, I don’t have as much confidence in my own skills to manage the situation without endangering myself or my children.

    I too am grateful that there are still people out there like you and your husband who are able to react and protect. If anything, you have motivated me to upgrade my skills and boost my confidence. To some extent, I too am embarassed about my own inadequacies. But there is still hope. Thankyou.

  4. Hi Ann-Marie,

    I witnessed my mother save a childs life when I was young. The relief on his mothers face stayed with me forever. I remember every detail of that night. I don’t think I have ever been prouder or more in awe.

    I always stop. I have sat with people in horrific accidents on the side of the road many times. Helped lost children find their parents at the Zoo or in supermarkets. Helped older people in shops. I cannot walk by. If it means I am in danger then so be it. However I have never had an issue beside so I guess I am lucky, or I have someone watching over me 🙂

    However I understand your father’s point. Don’t stop if your instinct tells you otherwise. Make the call. That alone is help.

    Thanks for reading.


  5. Everybody deserves care and protection. Good for you for acting together with your husband! Should something ever happen again (not just domestic violence, it could be a road accident), do call out with specific instructions to specific people, and that’ll trigger mass assistance.
    Yep I have some faith in my fellow humans, but not unfounded. read on.

    While apathy/denial is often blamed, it’s been tested and proven not to be the issue in most cases (ref: Influence – the Psychology of Persuation by Dr Robert Cialdini; a fabulous and practical work on social psychology).
    In a nutshell, the real problem is “social proof” – if a situation is not entirely clear, you subconsciously check around you to see what others do. Then, if others don’t act, the conclusion is nothing must be wrong and no action need be taken. This mechanism usually works fine, except in emergencies such as these where in essence everybody is doing the same thing (checking around them) and drawing a collective incorrect conclusion based on false evidence (since the others’ lack of action is not a decision but an artefact of their own uncertainty).

    If someone, either the person in need or a third party takes action, social proof works in favour of this also. Others see it and will now act. Very specifically addressing someone “you, with the blue shirt, call the police” is effective as a trigger for this in the vast majority of cases AND will trigger more assistance by others!

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