Because of the indoctrination of the real estate industry, there is a perception that neighbors can only care about each other if they live in single-family zoning. Apartment complexes are seen not only as unattractive, but inconducive to raising families and maintaining stable existences. From what I have seen, that ideology is becoming less and less true, because if people are unable to buy homes, how could social beings continue to ignore the presence of others? Little did I know how close I was to reality, and I found how tight multifamily complexes can be when a threat is revealed.
Domestic violence is real and increasing, whether people want to believe it or not. Frequently, the general public is encouraged to contact the police because the abuser(s) may be armed, and the main objective is to protect the survivor. This may be the case in single family homes, but one of the advantages to multifamily complexes is that there are often more people around, and more people watching situations than there would be in single family neighborhoods. Paper-thin walls, wide windows, and dilapidated doors mean that people are not forced to put themselves in harm’s way to ensure that abuse does not claim victims, but create survivors.
One Sunday evening, I was walking home from the bus because I have no personal vehicle, and I saw someone walking a dog, talking on a cell phone, and continuing to look behind, where the dog was not. I thought this behavior was strange, but continued walking until I saw a truck driving slowly, which made me a little nervous–until I saw a couple arguing loudly enough that I heard it down the street. In neighborhoods with houses, people might get lucky with someone walking down the street as long as it is early enough in the day. Among apartment complexes, all those irritating people with dogs are people with cell phones who can call for help, and there is often more than one of them walking around with eyes on the street. I finally understood that the first person I saw had been contacting the police, and because the police were not there, I walked over to stand with what I discovered was a seven-months pregnant woman who was in tears.
When yards are large and people are in charge of landscaping, it can be difficult to see and be seen when under attack. Much abuse happens behind closed doors because abusers are depend on outsiders viewing the survivors as “crazy.” Getting into a house (or an apartment) is difficult; standing on the sidewalk is easy, and that is exactly what I did. I noticed that the truck driving past began to increase speed and drive off when I joined the survivor, assured that someone would stay with the survivor. Being out in public made it much harder for the abuser to tell me to go away too aggressively, because all of a sudden, there were about four or five people walking their dogs and people hanging out on their balconies. Since I knew the police had been called, I very calmly lied and said that the ambulance–which would also have sirens–was on its way.
The abuser refused to leave the woman alone, so I suggested that we walk a bit, and down the street, I saw the police tear down the street, so I knew they were looking for the altercation. The abuser kept trying to wear the survivor down, but I just kept walking and listening, subtly inserting myself between the abuser and the victim (after discerning that there was no weapon). As we sat on the steps of another complex, the survivor began receiving calls from the family, telling her that she was being over emotional and that she needed to “stop playing the victim.” When intervening, it is vital to understand that if abuse has been happening for an extended period of time, large swaths of the survivor’s social network may have been influenced against the survivor. After I heard the crying survivor trying to plead her case, I took the phone from her and turned off the ringer. Down the street, I saw the police tear into another apartment complex.
While the survivor was talking, she began talking about how the two of them were due in court the next day because she had been abused on another occasion. The abuser had finally noticed the police and got further and further away from us before driving away, fortunately not in the survivor’s vehicle. She said, “I feel so stupid for letting [the abuser] back into my life.” I stopped her right there and said, “You’re not stupid. I’ve heard that it can take up to seven times for people to finally leave abusive situations.” When sitting with a survivor, the survivor does not need anyone judging the situation; just validating and listening, something the survivor needs after trauma. I asked her who she felt comfortable contacting to stay with her, and she mentioned her sister. I said, “Then call her, and I’ll stay with you until she gets here.” The survivor called her sister, who then told her to contact the apartment complex and have the locks changed. Finally, I saw the police driving slowly looking around, and I waved and received their attention.
As the police were getting our statements, I was thankful that the dog-walkers were everywhere, and people sitting on their balconies. Never was I alone with the survivor, and there were always eyes on the two of us. The police explained that it had taken so long because there was no address, which I completely understood since we had been walking. After my statement was complete, the police said, “Okay, you can go,” to which I responded, “I just want to wait until her sister gets here, because I said I would.” Because of all the police brutality, if it is safe enough, I recommend not leaving just because the police have arrived. Anything can, and does, happen just when everything appears “safe.” After the survivor gave her statement, one of the abuser’s sidekicks began sending hateful texts; together, the survivor and I deleted the texts and blocked the sidekick.
Finally, the survivor’s sister arrived, and we chatted so I could bring her up to speed. Once the survivor looked relaxed enough to handle the situation, I walked back to my apartment. I noticed that a lot of the people were gone from the street, and because the weather shifted, people started going back into their apartments. In single-family zoning, I might have been afraid to intervene because of private property laws and the fact that I could have been alone with the survivor. Within multifamily complexes, I knew that as long as we were in public, there would be multiple witnesses if anything had happened. More people should realize that society shifts, so do the ways in which people look out for each other. I was grateful to be reminded that even in apartment complexes that the political machines neglect, people still care.