The other day, as I walked to my apartment, I saw a couple on the sidewalk, across the street from me. At first it looked like they were embracing, but–even from my distance–something looked off. As I neared, I saw the woman break away, and the man grab and pull her. She yelled “stop!” He grabbed her around the neck. She struggled. She walked quickly away from him, but he caught up in short order and threw her to the ground. Both the man and woman went into a house together.
I called the police.
At this point, I will let the official police log take over the narrative:
“We met the witness, who stated that she observed an Asian male and female arguing in front of that address. A physical altercation transpired and they fled into their residence. However, we spoke with both individuals involved. They adamantly denied the physical altercation and stated it was only verbal. No injured were sustained.”
From my conversation with the police, I do think that they believed me. I also saw them interview the man and woman separately from one another. I also understand how hard something like this would be to prosecute, my word against the word of the couple. No injuries, no visible bruises.
And, I understand the huge number of factors that would lead a woman to deny that she had been hurt, culture, a belief that she “deserved it,” what ever happened before I arrived, societal expectations of women’s roles in relationships, and societal depictions of abuse and ideas about who it happens to and who it doesn’t happen to.
I read the Cambridge Police Department rules and regulations about reports of domestic violence. I know that my call and the ensuing report is supposed to show up if someone calls about this address or this person again. I take a little comfort in that, mixed with the heaviness that comes with knowing that it probably will happen again and the uncertainty about whether the neighbors will call or whether they will be reluctant to intervene in a “private” matter.
I am shocked by the brazenness of it, assault on the sidewalk, in the middle of the day, and then an adamant denial that any had occurred. And, I am afraid of the implications of what happened, the message that, if you push around a woman in broad daylight, if you wrap your arm around her neck, but you don’t leave any bruises, there isn’t much anyone can do.
I don’t have many readers, and I usually shy far away from advocacy. But, this platform is all I have. Maybe sharing this story of inefficacy is detrimental. But I share it because I believe that the only way things can change is if people stand up and say, “Bruises or not. This is unacceptable. We will call the police. Every time.”
When I was a teenager, the woman in my local flower shop had a huge amount of bruising around one of her eyes. I didn’t ask her if she was OK or what had happened. By the time I got home, I regretted not asking her. Not because I knew that she had been hit or that she would have told me if she had, but because she could have been, because abuse can happen to anyone. When it was just the two of us in the flower shop, I wasn’t brave enough to say something. The flower shop has since been replaced by a cupcake store. I have no idea what happened to that woman. But I know I should have said something.
This time, I did say something. And, nothing happened. But, saying something is the only option I had. And I’d do it again. And again. Maybe that woman knows that there are people who are looking out for her, who are watching him. Maybe not.
But if more people called the police. If more people stepped up, more assailants would know that their actions are unacceptable. More victims would know they have the law on their side. I’m left feeling like I didn’t do enough, even though I know I did exactly what I was supposed to do.
So, co-opting a slogan: If you see something, say something. If you hear something, say something. Domestic violence is violence. It’s against the law. It’s not a private matter. Even if saying something once doesn’t do anything, maybe the second or third time will.
At least I hope so.