Warning: This post discusses domestic violence and may be triggering for some readers.
Whether those neighbours suspected or overheard anything is not certain. But what is clear is that every day, there will be ordinary Australians who overhear alarming sounds coming from our neighbour’s homes, and when this happens, tragically, all too many of us will freeze.
I should know. Because despite being an anti-domestic violence advocate, I recently found myself listening to an explosive and violent argument that was occurring in a neighbour’s home, and my first instinct was to freeze.
Moments earlier I had wandered out on to my back veranda to investigate yelling sounds I could hear coming from inside a neighbour’s home. A male voice was screaming threats at full volume at a woman, calling her “a bitch”, “a f–king useless c-nt”, and telling her that he resented their children (I hadn’t realised they had any).
Then I heard bangs. And sickening crashes. And screaming.
And again I stood there frozen: panicked, overwhelmed, and utterly immobile.
In the next moment my fiancé rushed out from the garage, and his presence was enough to break my stupor and propel me in to action. I told him I was calling the police. He told me I was doing the right thing. I told him that I was scared. He told me that he had my back.
So I picked up the phone and called. Within minutes a police car pulled up outside the house.
These are some of the most effective anti-domestic violence campaigns. Which ones do you think were the most effective? (Post continues after gallery.)
I should have felt relief. But as I watched the police moving towards their front door, an entirely different set of fears was triggered within me: what if the offender finds out it was me who called? What if he turns his aggression on me after the police leave?
And so, being the impressive, adult-sized human that I am, I did the only thing I could think of: I dived behind the couch and hid, utterly terrified that I might be seen.
By the following day my anxiety had dissipated and a new emotion had taken hold. I was seething.
Seething that this scumbag had terrorised his female partner. Seething that in doing so, he had also terrified the neighbourhood. And seething that he had reduced me to hiding behind a couch in my own damn house like a frightened animal.
But most of all I was seething because I now also realised that there are children living in that home.
Now, weeks on from that moment, I’ve realised something else.
I realised that I wasn’t the only neighbour who froze. There were other neighbours also out investigating the noise, and they were also frozen. Not in apathy, but in shock and disgust.