Last night was interesting. My girlfriend, sitting outside, heard raised voices from the neighbours. We’ve heard them argue before, so she didn’t think anything of it. Then came what sounded like things getting broken, and a scream. That was a little more unusual, and so she called the cops. Not the emergency number, the other one. (131 444, in case you need it) Shortly thereafter, we saw a police officer in there through the window, who left a few minutes later, apparently satisfied. We didn’t hear anything else from the neighbours for the rest of the night.
My girlfriend unequivocally did the right thing. It’s so obvious now that she did. The strange part was that she wasn’t sure that she did. She asked me what I thought before she called, she pre-emptively apologised to the police line operator (who assured her that she did the right thing) and even afterwards had doubts that needed to be quelled before she could go to sleep. After all, what if it was nothing?
The obvious answer, from me, who was not the one who made the phone call, is 'so what if it was nothing?' If it's nothing, the police come over, check what happened, confirm that it's nothing, and leave. The record exists only in that officer's logbook. No harm, no foul, in more ways than one. Again, however, I’m not the one who made the call.
In my girlfriend's mind, if she was wrong, she could ruin their life or marriage. She had a crystal clear mental image of the cops storming in, throwing him in jail and throwing away the key before they even worked out what happened. Of the family then being caught in a scandal and legal battle for months, or even years. All because we misheard an argument and made something out of nothing. Despite everything we knew about domestic violence, how common it is, how often it ends in death, how hard it is to get a conviction and how little is being done by lawmakers, there was a small but persuasive voice saying “It's none of our business, don't cause a fuss.”
I say 'we' because I heard the same voice. I don't want to cast my girlfriend as paralysed by indecision. I did tell her that she absolutely should call, and I reassured her that she'd done the right thing afterwards. But I didn't boldly proclaim that I would call if she didn't. I didn't even say it softly. Storming over there and finding out what was going on certainly never crossed my mind. Because that little voice, persuasively whispering “It's none of our business, don't cause a fuss” was in my head too.
Why? The easiest explanation, and the one that my girlfriend brought up the most often was 'what if it was us?' We have spirited discussions all the time, frequently on mundane, silly topics, because we're both outspoken, assertive people, it's one of the things I love most about her. We've even had fights, raised our voices. It could easily be mistaken for something more serious. What if someone had called the cops on us?
The cops, who are paid, trained and trusted to deal with these scenarios, would have come over, made sure no one was in danger, and if no one was, they would have left.
PSA: there's a relationship abuse line on Snapchat. Post continues after video.
Just as we don't want our own eccentricities and excesses misinterpreted, we're terrified of doing the same to others. Because it's their business. There's the sacred idea that one's home is one's castle. It's their domain.
The problem comes down to the line. Where is it? When does their business become ours? If you're wondering if you should do something, the question has already been answered. Because if it's nothing, and you do something, nothing will result. If it's something, though, and you do nothing, the consequences can be awful, as the many dozens of people, mostly women, killed in domestic violence incidents last year, would attest.
That voice, the one that left my girlfriend wondering if she did the right thing, is only worrying about consequences in the one direction. What if she was wrong and that family goes to court over nothing? It's a fair question, but what of the other one? What if she was right? What if it was a violent incident, and we ignored it? The consequences of one outcome far outweighs the other.
I'm very glad we called. I'm proud of my girlfriend for making the right call. I just wish it hadn't seemed like such a hard decision for both of us.