Comment: A frightening new norm

Comment: A frightening new norm

The noise of his assault, not just her screams, were so loud I could hear it through their front door.

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I was standing on the footpath outside their house – my dinner with my boyfriend and housemate had been interrupted a few minutes earlier by the sound of an argument, the tone of which made us all uneasy –  and it took only seconds to realise how serious the situation was.

I ran home and my housemate called ’000′, the three of us returned outside, where a small group of people, all on their phones calling for help, had gathered.

The assault continued, mere metres from where we stood.

A small window above the front door was open a crack, and I suppose, thinking things could escalate further before the police arrived, I yelled for him to stop, told him we’d called the police.

The front door opened and there was a woman on the floor, a man standing over her and as she crouched there he began trying to kick her onto the porch while she clutched at his legs.

He wanted her out of his house, she wanted to collect her phone and bag.

Having recently finished Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear I understand now that intuition works faster than the process of logic and so I suppose I had enough time to see he wasn’t carrying a weapon, he was middle-aged, furious and violent but not in any way a threat to me – there were so many neighbours gathered, several of them much younger men, so I didn’t feel at risk – so at almost the same instant my boyfriend and I both started to move into the house.

I understand why one female neighbour screamed at us not to go in, I don’t know that I would have had the situation not presented itself exactly as it did and I don’t know I would do the same if it happened tomorrow, but that night we did.

The man retreated to the lounge room at the end of the hallway and sat there, my boyfriend keeping an eye on him while I went into the front bedroom with the woman and helped her collect her bag, wallet and phone. As we left, she held my hand and she was cold and in shock, limping badly and holding her stomach.

We took her home and waited for the police.

When they arrived, we went out the front to give them the space to interview her and there we watched them load her partner into a van, handcuffed and angry, he had apparently been verbally abusive to the police when they arrived and they’d had him on the footpath and removed his belt and shoes.

An ambulance arrived and paramedics were directed to our lounge room.

Here’s what I learnt that night:

Paramedics don’t know the exact location of shelters for victims of violence, only the police do, but at that time of night there’s barely a chance of finding a bed, most fill up in the afternoon. There are not enough beds in Sydney for all the people who need safety from violence. There are far too few.

A large number of women return to abusive partners and we were cautioned that we should expect that outcome and that the paramedics and police would support her if she wished to press charges, but would refrain from passing judgement if she wished to return home.

The best chance of safety that night was admitting her to hospital and alerting hospital staff that her partner was to be kept away from her. If she wished to return home after being assessed at the hospital, the police would bring her back and make sure the house was safe for her to re-enter.

Here are conclusions I made that night:

A call out to a domestic violence incident that ended without serious injury seemed to be one of the better results the police had experienced. For all the criticisms of the police in this country, some of them well-founded, I don’t have to face what they do in my day-to-day life, or have to play a role in judging it. I have no idea how they do it, the mental strain must be phenomenal and the fact that our society is so violent and that the assault that night could not be classified as the worst of what they had seen says as much about Australian culture as much as it does the police force, laws and funding for victims.

A removalist arrived several days after the assault and arrest, presumably to move the victim’s belonging out. I haven’t seen her since, nor have we received any information about whether or not she pressed charges, or if it will go to court, though we all made it clear we were willing to be witnesses.

Two days after the assault I was leaving for work and there he was, on his front porch watering his plants. I had no choice but to walk past him and we made eye contact. I have no idea if he recognised me or not, but nothing was said.

I’ve seen him several times since, he’s still living two doors down.

The young women who lived in the house between us moved in the weeks after it happened. It would not surprise me at all if what they heard that night was the driving force behind the decision, I avoid walking past his front door where possible.

The media and politicians seem to be gripping to recent unprovoked attacks on young men by young men because there’s a common theme, a punch that seems unprovoked and happens suddenly. You can legislate (problematically) against that, because there’s a common theme that ties the incidents all together.

Domestic violence is far more frequent (and occurring increasingly) but it takes on so many different forms, it can happen behind closed doors beyond CCTV or witnesses, victims are often financially and emotionally dependent on the perpetrators and the abuse can build up slowly over time and be more insidious.

Regardless of the complexities, one fact remains: we live in a country where a man backing his partner into a corner and beating her with his fists and attempting to literally kick her out of their home is a level of violence both common and not amongst the most serious seen in domestic situations. That that is the norm is disgusting and frightening. Hospital beds should be for healing, not for protection and police officers and paramedics shouldn’t see so much violence that they have to counsel people to give up hope that victims can get the support they need to leave violent situations.

But that is the norm.

That’s the country we’re living in right now and I’ve given it a lot of thought and I have no idea how we change it.

Julia Gardiner is a Sydney-based media professional and blogs at Doom & Gloom.