An Abusive New Year's Eve
4 months ago
A night that begins with the sounds of revelry, ends with the sounds of violence
New Year's Eve: the click-clack of noisemakers, the pop of handheld confetti cannons, the clink of champagne flutes -- and for myself and a friend in New York City, hearing the blood-curdling screams of a woman being beaten by a man in the apartment downstairs and one of her two children crying out, "My mommy is dying!"
Initially, there were no screams coming from the apartment directly below us, just loud thuds. We at first erred on the side of blaming booze for the first sounds of commotion downstairs. After peeking down a short staircase, we identified two men fighting in the apartment doorway. No sign or sound of children. No sign or sound of the woman. We figured that the fighting would soon stop. It was New Year's Eve after all and, unfortunately, there’s nothing out of the norm about two men getting into a fistfight after a night of drinking.
Things quickly became worse. The woman, who my friend identified as her downstairs neighbor, began screaming, as if for her life. A man’s voice rang out, “Stop hitting her, man! She’s bleeding!” His cries didn’t stop the ruckus. The physical violence became so loud and forceful that each bang and thud could be felt through the floor of my friend’s apartment above it. And then the children started screaming.
My friend and I had just welcomed in the new year as witnesses to domestic violence and with multiple calls to 911 as one of the woman's children for several minutes pleaded, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” And, after nearly an hour more of endless screaming and sounds of physical violence, having to call again when one of the children cried out, “My mommy is dying!”
By dialing 911, my friend and I had done what advocates for domestic violence victims say many are hesitant to do and, moreover, are not trained to assess. And it's a situation for which, victim advocates say, there are few options for safe intervention aside from calling the police.
“We all want to do the right thing, and often we’re not sure what that is,” said Lorien Castelle, director of prevention programs for the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“You really want the first responders (police) to know what they are doing and to do it well,” Castelle said. “But the rest of us who just live in the world, on occasion, are exposed to this kind of thing. We want people to be an ‘upstander,’ not just a bystander. It’s about standing up for what’s right and doing it safely.”
Based on what I'd described to her in a phone interview, Castelle said calling the police was the right thing to do in this instance. She also calmed concerns my friend and I had in the aftermath about incurring possible retaliation by the alleged abuser. Castelle says abusers aren’t likely to come after bystanders because they aren’t the ones that he (or she) wants to control.