Monday, 18 August 2008

It's not OK - but what should we do about it?

A few weeks back, my family and I moved from a middle class, largely Pakeha suburb in Dunedin to a poor, multi-ethnic one in Lower Hutt. My partner took our two small kids to the nearby playground a couple of days after our arrival, and came back quite upset shortly afterwards.

My partner, A., had been chatting to another bloke at the playground while their respective kids had fun. It was a normal and friendly conversion. Everything was fine until the bloke started shouting at his partner, screaming things like 'I'll smash your fucking face in', in front of scared bystanders and the couple's children. He'd then driven away, but had come back a couple of times to scream more abuse. Looking beleaguered, the woman eventually took her kids off on foot, since her partner had disappeared with the family car.

A. came back upset, partly because of what he'd seen, and partly because he'd simply had no idea what to do to help. He'd been afraid for the safety of our own family, and afraid that if he tried to intervene, he would provoke the bloke into worse mistreatment of his partner. A. said that all the other onlookers were equally horrified, but felt equally powerless.

This is a situation I've encountered a few times, and thought about many times. Occasionally, I've intervened in conflicts, because the advocacy work I've done in the past has given me a sense of when it's safe to step in - but most people don't get a chance to learn this skill, and as I've said A., you shouldn't intervene if you can't be sure of your safety. He and I once called the Police when we saw a neighbour having a vicious fistfight with a drunken guest. We were relieved we'd done it - but we also spent the next few days scared of retribution from next door.

Now and again I wonder whether the conflicts I see or hear amongst people around me are evidence of abuse or violence. This makes me fret and wonder if I'm developing some sort of middle class siege mentality (always afraid of what those 'other' people may be up to), whether I'm being a bit holier than thou, or if I'm just getting prone to moral panics in my old age. I know people, often solo mums, who've found they've been reported to CYF (or, back in the day, Social Welfare) for being inadequate parents - dobbed in erroneously by people either being busybodies, or simply being malicious. Usually, my ethos is, 'If in doubt, intervene', but this can sometimes make matters worse; and it's not much help if you simply don't know how to intervene.

I am a strong supporter of the 'It's not OK' campaign against family violence. Research indicates that it is having a quicker than expected impact on people's views of violence. Perhaps the next step for anti-violence campaigners is to help people like me - well-meaning, but a bit useless - to know what it is we can do to help.


Lucyna Maria said...

There's probably not a lot your husband could have done, except indicating by his reaction that he did not approve. That peer-pressure thing may count for something over time

The ex-expat said...

Urgh. Been there a few months ago. I watched with horror as a 12 year old was rolling around drunk and shirtless on Ponsonby Road on at around midnight on a school night with his father not really caring so I called in the cops.

I felt awful about having to do it. But at the same time I felt that it was not in the best interests of the child to stand by.

Anna McM said...

Thanks LM - I said the same thing to him. Hopefully when the guy calmed down he reflected on the fact that everyone around him was horrified by his behaviour.

Ex-expat, that is bloody awful. You certainly did the right thing there. I hope the Police responded sensatively to the whole thing.

Dave said...

Welcome to Lower Hutt! Unfortunately there is nothing your partner could have done other than call the police, even to comment to this guy expressing disgust is likely to result in a violent reaction. BTW were not all like this.

Anna McM said...

I know you're not all like this Dave - neither men nor Lower Hutt residents! I've actually really enjoyed living in my new hood. Apart from a couple of unfortunate incidents, people have been welcoming and lovely. :-)

Jessica said...

I really believe in a situation like this, we must speak up. We have a shared responsibility for those in our community, and by not sharing your views that his behaviour was offensive and violent we are essentially silently condoning it. This may or may not go on to empower his partner. It may also leave her vulnerable to further abuse. But I firmly think that saying something calmly and in a non threatening way to this man is better than doing nothing at all.

Mark said...

What race was the guy?