By MARY LOU STEPHENS
I was a lot younger than I am now when it happened. And I was a lot more idealistic. I was sitting in a pub with my boyfriend and his mates.
A man and a woman I didn’t know began to fight nearby. The fight turned violent. He hit her. More than once. More than twice. I waited for my boyfriend and his mates to do something. To tell the man to stop. To protect the woman. They did nothing. They steadfastly ignored what was happening only metres away.
“Aren’t you going to do anything?” I asked them.
They didn’t answer. They wouldn’t even look at me.
“I’m going to stop this,” I said and stood up.
My boyfriend put his hand on my arm. “It’s none of our business.”
I shrugged his hand off and moved away. The couple were screaming at each other. He grabbed her hair and pulled her head back. She was crying, her face red from where he’d hit her.
“Hey,” I said. “Stop it.”
The man span around to look at me. “What?”
“Stop it. Leave her alone.”
And he did. He left her alone and strode over to me. “This is none of your business,” he said, echoing my boyfriend words. He was angry, drunk and wild-eyed.
“Well, if it’s none of my business don’t do it near me. You do it in front of me, you make it my business.”
What did I expect? Did I think he’d see reason? Did I imagine he’d stop, think about it and say, “You know what, you’re right. Sorry.”
Wrong. This was a man who hit women. This was a man who hit women in public and didn’t care who saw him do it.
This was a man who didn’t think twice in picking up a beer bottle and taking a swing at me. I got my arm up to block the blow. I thought he would stop after that.
I thought my boyfriend would intercede, after all surely it was his business now. Wrong again. The man took another swing at me. I wasn’t expecting it.
Luckily the beer bottle was full. Luckily the bottle didn’t smash. I was almost knocked unconscious but I was not cut.
The man dropped the bottle and ran. The woman ran after him. My boyfriend offered to take me to hospital.
“Why didn’t you do something?” I asked him.
“If he’d hit you one more time I was going to,” he answered.
“Twice was not enough?”
He didn’t answer.
My eye was swelling up. I could hardly see out of it. I slumped in my seat, dizzy and nauseous.
My boyfriend’s mates helped him get me to the car. “We’ll get that fuck wit,” they said. “We’ll get him and bash him up.”
“No. Don’t,” I said. “Violence isn’t going to fix anything.” Besides I was worried that if they did, it would start a chain reaction. I was a woman who lived alone. I didn’t fancy being hit again, or worse, by that man. “Just take me home.”
“You don’t want to go to the hospital?”
“I just want to go home.”
My boyfriend and I split up not long afterwards. He was prepared to do nothing while a woman he didn’t know was beaten up in front of him. He was prepared to do nothing when I woman he did know and supposedly loved was bashed in front of him. He was not the man for me. He was a coward.
Some people told me I should have known better. That I shouldn’t have got involved. That, really, it was none of my business. “I guess you’ve learnt your lesson,” they said. “I’ll bet you’ll never do that again.”
My answer always surprised them. The answer from a woman with a black eye, a swollen face, a woman who has a small dent on her cheekbone to this day as a result.
“I would do it again and I will do it again if it happens in front of me. It is unacceptable. What does that say about me if I accept it?”
I didn’t have the Chief of Army’s fine words to say to them back them but now I do. “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” I wear that dent on my cheek with pride and awareness. If a man is violent to a woman there is every chance he will be violent to me when I intervene.
Don’t walk past but do take care.
If you need help or just somebody to talk to, you can contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or go to their website. They are the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counselling service.