It all seemed normal…
Gavin owned a slice of paradise within a sleepy suburb at a small coastal city. His neighbours were a bit odd sure, but Gavin always took them as the quiet friendly type. He thought the father was a good man, even if his kids were a little strange. The two families always held true to playing backyard cricket against each other on Boxing Day He remembered the kids scoring runs, yelling HOWZAT, like their Aussie counterparts on TV.
On this particular day, Gavin was sitting on his porch remembering the game, when the screams from next door ripped him from the memory.
Startled, Gavin’s head swivelled at the sound of the blood-curdling thump. So deeply it resonated, bypassing walls as surely as air. Turning his head, Gavin noticed his neighbour’s white knuckled grip around the leg of what he thought to be a chair. The small window frame only offering minimal visibility. Suddenly, the son burst out the front door.
Gavin watched as he stumbled down the street clutching his arm. The boy, desperate to escape his screaming father, turned the corner at the top of the cul-de-sac, and disappeared. Gavin sat in stunned silence, as still as the woodwork around him. His neighbour slammed the front door shut and disappeared into the house.
Where the hell had that come from? Gavin had observed the boy’s violence on several occasions since moving in 10 years ago. He knew the boy craved attention. He recalled a foggy morning two winters ago when he had offered to drive the neighbour’s kids to soccer. Out of nowhere, the neighbour’s son yanked on his sister’s hair. Gavin remembers jumping at the pitch of her scream and almost swerved off the road in shock. Quickly chastising him, that wasn’t the last time Gavin watched on as his neighbour’s son flirted with increasingly violent behaviours. Where had he learnt that? Well now Gavin knew.
In that moment, Gavin counted the times he had failed to speak up.
Domestic and family violence is described as a complex issue. In reality, the word complex does not do justice to the chaotic web that leads someone to use violence on another. Such violence emerges from a multitude of societal, demographical and cultural causes that intersect differently for each individual.
This makes it difficult to prevent.
However, general warning signs exist and these help us identify those at greater risk of experiencing or using domestic and family violence.
Just because domestic and family violence is complex does not mean that we do not have a responsibility to understand and intervene when we recognise its signs. In part, it is precisely because we have chosen to ignore the signs of domestic and family violence that it so prevalent in our communities.
Preventing domestic and family violence before it begins remains the most effective intervention we as a community can make. An early intervention can save lives.
As easy as it is to say we must intervene early, what does this actually look like?
Let’s go back to Gavin’s case…
Gavin, after experiencing the incident in the car and the repetitive nature of the boy’s violence, should have given him the cause for concern to intervene. It is important to note there is a fine line between a positive intervention and an over-intervention in Gavin’s situation, and if unsure, it is best to seek advice from friends/family or professional services.
Gavin had a few options available to him. As a man, Gavin could utilise his close relationship with the boy’s father, to initiate a conversation with him about his son. Men talking to other men about these issues is a vital piece in the domestic and family violence prevention puzzle.
Not needing to be confrontational, Gavin could approach the conversation by saying something like “Hey, is your son ok? I noticed on the way to soccer, your son pulled your daughter’s hair in a way that made me concerned.”
So, Gavin has the conversation with his neighbour, and Gavin is now concerned that perhaps there is violence in the home. What should Gavin do next? Well, Gavin, like the majority of us, is not a trained domestic and family violence support worker. What he can do is talk to friends and family, or other neighbours to get a bit of advice. Or if he is particularly concerned, he could get in touch with domestic and family violence support professionals.
The moral of this story is that when we fail to step in and call out bad behaviour, we send the message that the behaviour is ok. To walk past the action is the same as condoning it.
Non-intervention becomes a vicious cycle. Left unchecked, it becomes increasingly difficult and costly to prevent behaviour that continually escalates.
We all have a role to play in preventing domestic and family violence. You can speak up. You can step in and step up.
If we suspect someone in our lives is experiencing domestic and family violence, we have a duty to step in and step up early, even if it is a little scary.