Personal Reflection on Witnessing Domestic Violence
Director of Domestic Violence Services, Child, Inc.
Now that it is October and Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I can’t help but reflect on three separate times I personally witnessed Domestic Violence.
During the summer of 2019 I witnessed an incidence of Intimate Partner Violence, also called Domestic Violence, at an intersection on Washington Street in Wilmington. Since it was hot, my car windows were down. While waiting at a red light a woman came from down the block walking quickly yelling “Help! He’s going to kill me! Help me.” A man walked quickly behind her and when she began running, he chased her. It was summer in the city and many people were outside and looked on. No one offered any assistance, no one pulled their cell phone out to call the police. They just looked and continued their activity.
The woman looked directly at me and said “Miss, please! Please help, please!” I told her to get in and we drove around a while. The man was an ex-boyfriend. I engaged her in conversation that ended with her saying that she didn’t want to involve the police.
In early August of this year as I slowed to a stop at a red light on Fourth Street in Wilmington, I heard yelling voices from the sidewalk and saw a young couple with a toddler in a stroller. A second adult woman was with the toddler’s mother. The man, presumably the child’s father, yelled “Why you got my daughter out here in the streets looking like this? She got on old clothes, her hair ain’t done and no shoes. She supposed to be in school, anyway.” The two women yelled responses to him as he reached for the toddler. One of the women turned the stroller so he couldn’t get to the child. He grabbed at both women’s clothes and pushed them around. I yelled that I was calling the police and told him to get away from them. Essentially, he let me know that he wasn’t concerned about my call to the police, cussed me out and walked away saying that he would beat the mother’s ass if he saw his daughter looking bad in the street again. I drove around the block and went back to the women and asked if they needed help. They said they did not.
On a separate occasion this past August, I encountered a similar situation. At the corner of 10th and Walnut Street a woman tried to get into a parked sedan as she wailed and yelled words that I couldn’t make out. An adult man marched toward the sedan in silence and passed in front of my stopped car. As I looked at him, I saw a face of anger, quick deliberate steps, and clenched fists. To the right, a group of teen boys bounced basketballs on the sidewalk and looked on. A school bus driver looked on from the driver’s seat of the bus. Adult men and women walked by gawking as the woman screamed and the man pulled her away from the driver’s seat again and again as she desperately tried to get in the car. I heard one of the men say “Yo! She trippin’.” Another passerby, a woman talking to a man said “She about to get her ass whooped out here.”
The woman’s shirt was ripped open exposing her bra and she yelled “I want my stuff; I want my stuff out of this car! Just give me my purse!” At one point she gave up trying to get into the car on the driver’s side and dashed to the front passenger area. The man chased her, grabbed her, and threw her to the ground. She stood up almost immediately and still wailing she yelled “Help! He’s stealing from me! He won’t give me my stuff!” She tried again to get into the car on the passenger side; he pulled her out of the car and threw her down again.
As I drove up the hill on 10th street, away from scene, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw her continue to run around the car dodging his grabbing hands. I cried as I drove off, too scared to help her. I felt ashamed of myself for doing nothing. Thoughts raced through my head like- Will he physically attack me? If he attacks me, will anyone help? What if I’m wrong and she was actually trying to steal from him, instead of the other way around? What if the police are dismissive- how far will I go with the department to get attention for this woman? Should I just go ahead and call the police- will they show up and when? What could happen to me in the interim?
As I look back on these three incidents of Domestic Violence occurring in broad daylight, I feel worried about a society where women can be assaulted and threatened in public while the world looks the other way. Why, on three separate occasions, did dozens of people watch an attack or a would be attack on a woman, and do nothing? As you read above, I only intervened two of three times. I was frightened during each incident. As I look back, I can’t figure out what made me make the decision to intervene versus drive off. In the future I choose to intervene.
If you see DV, call for help and if safe, share with the victim DV hotline information. Everyone knows someone. Knowing who to call and how to offer help is an essential way of providing support.
Check out these tips for intervening if you witness domestic violence.