Neighbor attacked boyfriend; what should I do?
July 18, 2012 1:41 AM   Subscribe

Neighbor attacked her boyfriend with knife. What should I do?

My neighbors are a couple who have been together for about a decade. Since I moved in about 7 months ago, I've heard them drunkenly fight and shout at one another maybe 4 or 5 times. This last time, I heard the gal shrieking and what sounded like banging (1 AM). I called her phone to ask if things were okay, did anyone need to be called. Her boyfriend answered and said she had just attacked him with a knife and he was bleeding. I am a medical student who also cares about community and asked him to come down so I could help him. I cleaned him up, tended his wounds and listened to him, and offered the sole advice that they seek external support-- he was adamant that he was not pressing charges and did not want anyone called. He appreciated my help and has refused my advice, for now-- we set the intention for me to check in with him/them in two weeks.

I personally think their issues are their business, and whether they break up or stay together and work it out doesn't mean much to me. I am concerned though that their fights have become too violent obviously, and am wondering, is it my place to report this? Do I simply follow with my intention to check in in two weeks and refer them to our local counseling center? (The center is excellent and free). Would it be more appropriate to insist at that point? Do I tell the landlord of our apartment complex? Or just leave them be?

If it means anything, this is the first explicitly violent incident in their relationship.

Om tare tuttare ture soha and goodnight

posted by dolce_voce to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We have neighbors who fight a lot, and when it gets out of control, we call 911. I'd like to think having the cops show up was sobering and has helped them to control themselves a bit. And even if they like you, it's probably not safe for you to get so involved in their fights. Girlfriend could come after you next.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:46 AM on July 18, 2012 [25 favorites]

This will get worse.

The girlfriend has not faced any consequences for her actions. It will get worse.

Call the police.

Also, seeing violence as "their issues" is already a cognitive error (I point this out compassionately, it's a natural defense mechanism to think that you aren't affected by violence if you're not the one directly attacked): you've been affected by it.

Indeed, whether they break up or not is their business. But violence never stays contained. Never. You've already experienced that. Call the police.
posted by fraula at 1:58 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you care enough to call them in the middle of the night and tend their wounds, then it is no longer just "their business". You're involved now. Call the cops. It won't necessarily lead to charges, but a gentle reminder that you can't stab people without consequence is entirely appropriate.
posted by robcorr at 2:05 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gotta second fraula: violence never stays contained. Next time --- and there WILL BE a 'next time' --- call the cops, pronto. This woman is a clear danger not just to her boyfriend, but also to other people: she can and will escalate her violence, and who's to say when (not 'if', but 'WHEN') it will expand to other people? Can you be sure that next time, she won't increase how much BF is injured?

Call the cops, that's what they're there for.
posted by easily confused at 2:11 AM on July 18, 2012

Jeez, if this were the other way round we'd be on this like a rash. Last I checked, knives aren't magically less sharp when a woman wields them.

This is domestic violence. With a knife.

A drunken major flare up once every six weeks and a knife attack are not signs the problem is going to go away without outside intervention.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:12 AM on July 18, 2012 [40 favorites]

Ok- the word is unanimous that the police ought to be involved. I promised him I would not call the police tonight after he asked me not to.

From here, how about I let them know that I will call the cops immediately the next time I hear them fighting, and repeat my advice that they seek counseling with our local center, *and* check in in two weeks?
posted by dolce_voce at 2:15 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I suspect that the best thing you can do is back out of this entirely: no warning that next time you'll call the cops, no advice about counseling, nothing. The problem is, getting involved will focus her anger ON YOU; and frankly when thinking of her and her knife, you have to consider your own physical safety first.

I know you want to help, but the best thing you can do here is just phone the police whenever this flares up.
posted by easily confused at 2:20 AM on July 18, 2012 [43 favorites]

This all sounds fishy; you called her phone and he answered? You don't know why she used a knife against him; perhaps she was defending herself. You can't know what's going on between them.

Do not get involved in this anymore, because your attempt to help one party or the other may have the exact opposite intended effect. Call the police.
posted by catch as catch can at 2:39 AM on July 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

I called her phone and he answered because she had left their apartment after she attacked him. What you said about the possibility of her defending herself may very well be true; I have no way of knowing. It isn't my intention to help one of them any more than the other, as I would have helped whoever was bleeding and in shock at that moment. Please don't use this an an opportunity to create some kind of drama mystery.
posted by dolce_voce at 2:43 AM on July 18, 2012

Yeah, regardless of your promise to avoid calling the police, it's probably the course of action to simply call the police and let them handle it. I understand the impulse of wanting to help them personally, to urge them to go to counseling and check in to make sure they're OK -- that means you are a caring person and there's nothing wrong with that. However, when there's assault with a deadly weapon occurring (and slicing someone with knife falls under that category) I think it's better to err on the side of your own safety and let the professionals handle the dispute. If someone's willing to attack a "loved" one with a weapon, what's to stop them from doing the same to you if they are upset and alcohol is clouding their judgement.
posted by arcolz at 3:01 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're about to choose to get more involved in what a cop friend related is pretty much the most dangerous interpersonal conflict.

This isn't the way to get your community health/field surgeon fix. MYOB and call 911, need I say assault with a deadly weapon is no joke. Volunteer with homeless outreach or prisoner health or something.
posted by rhizome at 3:13 AM on July 18, 2012 [14 favorites]

I agree with calling the police. As a medical student and depending on your location, it may not be appropriate to provide medical assistance without supervision. It could get you into trouble. Calling the police means they or ambulance officers will get the medical help your neighbours need.
posted by quercus23 at 3:22 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a medical student, presumably going into the medical field and perhaps one that is community-based, won't you eventually be a mandatory reporter?
It may not legally apply to you now, or in this situation, but if I were in your position and I didn't report this would trouble me ethically in the long-run despite the promise made.
posted by whatzit at 3:33 AM on July 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

I sincerely appreciate your opinions and have followed the unanimous advice (the police have just entered the building), and I must say that my choices have had nothing to do with my practicing my career - I honestly did not know whether this warranted a call to the police because I've never experienced anything like it before. Thanks, everyone.
posted by dolce_voce at 3:34 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's great that you wanted to help. More people should. You sound like a really caring person.

I think you get the idea already, but let me just reiterate one more time that you should not contact these people directly the next time this happens--you should call 911 right when you start to suspect someone is hurt. Not only do the police come, but EMTs can come as well and that's really important as they can do things you can't do (namely transport the patient while keeping them stable).

Once I heard a domestic dispute and called 911 (so did several of my neighbors). The woman involved was carried out in a stretcher with serious injuries that needed to be seen by the ER immediately (like, blood everywhere). I don't know for sure, but she might have needed surgery or even a blood transfusion. A delay of 10 or 15 minutes could be a big deal in that case.

Thanks for doing this, though, seriously. What you did was awesome.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:55 AM on July 18, 2012 [10 favorites]

From here, how about I let them know that I will call the cops immediately the next time I hear them fighting,

What the what? Don't tell them anything, just call the police next time it happens. Lots of neighbours in the world, no reason they will think it's you. Also, appreciate the humanity, but you should extricate yourself from this asap and leave it to the professionals; it could get really dangerous for everyone involved.
posted by smoke at 4:01 AM on July 18, 2012 [14 favorites]

Neighbor attacked her boyfriend with knife. What should I do?

This is not even a question. You call the cops immediately.
posted by mhoye at 5:34 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think this is a crazy place for you to live. You need to get out of there ASAP and live somewhere else.

I know the Metafilter sentiment is to get involved, but that chance passed. If it happens again, call the police. Don't call him or her, just call the police. And lock your doors and find a new place to live.
posted by discopolo at 6:15 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You've heard the good advice about calling the police when you hear the sounds of violence, I won't repeat all that, other than to emphasize that it means calling the police directly, not calling your neighbors and talking to them about calling the police.

But your next step needs to be talking with one of your med school professors about what are the appropriate boundaries for providing medical care outside of a clinical setting. Meaning, were you doing the right thing (from a medical perspective, ignoring the whole drama and police thing) when you treated his knife wounds at home, or should you have done something different? Are there legal issues to consider? Is your at-home medical kit adequate to keep you safe, including pathogens? Those are the kinds of questions you should be asking a supportive and thoughtful med school prof to help give you guidance for next time.
posted by Forktine at 6:25 AM on July 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

You promised him...

Sorry, but you don't make promises like that.
The police should know about this. You might end up saving her life by making this call to police.
posted by Flood at 6:38 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's hard to know what to do in these instances, this is why you need to know ahead of time how to react. When a neighbor's fight is so loud that you can hear it, call the police.

That's a hard and fast rule. It covers anything that could possible happen.

I'm assuming that you're making a police report now. Good for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:38 AM on July 18, 2012

This is the exact kind of reason why one should never ever make promises of confidentiality lightly, because this is the kind of promise that one absolutely must break.

You've done the right thing here.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:58 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, I'll chime in - yes, call the police. It's everyone's place to make their community a safe and peaceful place to live; and if you care, this is what you do when there's violence. Even if it's just for data point reasons, be they for a victim's sake; for the landlord's sake or for neighbourhood crime statistics sake. Follow up today if you feel you must, but you don't really have to -- not in two weeks -- explaining that you're reconsidering your level of involvement. I mean, did you help cover up a crime there? I don't know. Put your referral on the table, and walk away.

And I would drop a line to the landlord, because yours may not be the only complaint and this may be part of a decision making process. Be friendly, by all means. Pass on helpful information if if solicited. Keep a record of any incidences you witness. But don't white knight again.

I promised him I would not call the police tonight after he asked me not to.

Further, The Rules about secrets, for kids really ought to be the same for adults:
If a secret can't hurt someone or something, keep it.
If a secret can hurt someone or something, tell an adult.
If you're not sure, tell.
Tell them that NO adult should ever ask them to keep a special secret, especially one that makes them feel uneasy.
Keeping secrets, and asking others to, is a big part of an abusive relationship, for those in it and those around it. Don't be a part of theirs. You just call the police because if you tell or warn them or think you're helping them with "Next time I will..." or "Get counseling or next time I will..." what sometimes happens is they just get quieter about the fights. If couples in an abusive situation are aware that people are listening or observing, the damage still happens, but they learn to keep it down so the neighbours don't hear. Trust me, I know. Your kindness, which I can tell comes from a good place and is sincere, might make things worse.
posted by peagood at 7:07 AM on July 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

In your medical career, you will see patients who are victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, no matter what your specialty, and you will be a mandatory reporter. One of the blessings of the mandatory reporter is that it takes all this thinking out of our hands - the rule is that we pick up the phone and call the people whose job it is to handle the problem. Period. In acute situations, like the one you describe, the police will come immediately and triage the participants to the appropriate situation.

I understand and empathize with your desire to protect your neighbors' privacy and to offer assistance, but that is counterproductive. Silence allows the violence to continue and, as violence does, eventually to escalate. A fight with a weapon is already a significant escalation from what you perceive as a previously non-violent relationship (which I doubt is true). In addition, you put yourself at risk if the abuser realizes you are aware but not taking action; consider a situation where the boyfriend was critically injured or killed and it became known that you had not reported a situation of which you are aware.

Forktine's suggestion that you take this issue to a professor for supervision and feedback is a great one. Your responsibilities (or liabilities!) as a medical student are important things for you to know. However, I think you should discuss the violence as well; one of the reasons for mandatory reporting laws is because healthcare professionals don't always report violence or don't ask the appropriate screening questions. Your compassion is to be lauded, and I hope you keep it throughout your career. Sometimes the kindest action is to take action.

Disclaimer: I am a mental health professional who is a mandatory reporter and who has called 911 on neighbors.
posted by catlet at 8:47 AM on July 18, 2012 [11 favorites]

Here's another take. Let's say day after tomorrow she shoots him. Blammo, and he's dead. So then in the autopsy (or before), they realize that he was recently patched up, and they ask her about it, and she mentions that the medical student upstairs came down in the middle of the night to patch him up. (Or he survives it and tells them himself, same/same.)

Now you face charges. Oh, you can say "the police would never press those charges", but they most certainly can, and depending on what the prosecutor's docket looks like that particular week, anything could happen, ESPECIALLY once her lawyer finds out about it.

Call the police and make a statement. Protect yourself.
posted by TomMelee at 10:00 AM on July 18, 2012

You should have called 911 instead of her. Do that the next time.
posted by pakora1 at 11:59 AM on July 18, 2012

Agreed. Dolce, please let us know how it turns out, and all the best.
posted by TonyRobots at 1:08 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Because there were some other questions and concerns beyond reporting the incident...

I came back to say to please be careful yourself after this. I was catching up on a friend's twitter today, and she posted this ("Last night I called the police on my wife abusing neighbour, then he destroyed two beds of my garden as retaliation. So sad about all of it..") Even if they're otherwise nice, people do things in anger. Please, if you feel your neighbours might do anything to retaliate, report it too. That's another good reason to speak to your landlord, should they decide to make life difficult for you there.
posted by peagood at 1:29 PM on July 18, 2012

TonyRobots - yes, one of my posts seems to have disappeared. Thanks again for the support.
posted by dolce_voce at 4:26 PM on July 18, 2012

It's a good idea to call the police from your home next time, for the many reasons stated above. I also think you did the right thing in *not* calling the police when the boyfriend asked you not to. In the DV training I've had, we have always been taught to listen to the victim and put her/his needs above our instincts. Your neighbor was the victim; if he didn't want the police, that was his decision. As a neighbor keeping yourself safe, sure, call the cops. As a doctor sitting face-to-face with the victim, please respect their wishes.
posted by epj at 6:25 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

"As a doctor sitting face-to-face with the victim, please respect their wishes."

I'm a cop in a medium sized Canadian city. I couldn't disagree more. Mind you I'm also one of those people who thinks you should go ahead and give blood to the children of religious folk who think blood transfusions are from the devil, or whatever. My point is that the victim, while being an important person, is not necessary the one thinking clearly. That's what the police are for, that's what doctors and lawyers and judges are for.

Respecting the view of the victim is exactly the same as respecting the view of the patient who doesn't want to hear the diagnosis, let alone the treatment plan.

The victim doesn't think they're sick, they don't think anything is wrong really, it was a once off, it won't happen again. Whether it's a severe beating, a stabbing or cancer wishful thinking doesn't make it so.

Now, this is not how I'd express all this to the victim, that would be sort of insensitive, but I'm expressing it this way to everyone else because I really hate it when I can't do my job because NO ONE CALLED ME. Ahhhh that's better.

Listen, cops are not super heroes, we don't know what's going on when we're not called and we can't make witnesses appear out of thin air, if we get there and no one wants to say how Jane/John Anonymous "fell into the door" or "tripped and landed on the knife, four times" then no one is going to jail and we'll probably just run a betting pool on how long until Jane/John is dead. As a group we have a dark sense of humour.

Calling the cops means that we can talk to the victim and let them know we care, that we will come, and that they don't have to put up with it. Usually we have that conversation about 20 times with any given person before they actually start to believe us that they not deserving of the beatings and make a statement. Then they recant, then it's about another 10-20 times before they manage to do it again and stick with it to actually leave the violent relationship.

Sometimes they never do, sometimes they die, murdered or kill themselves because they can't take it.

Call us. We can't drag anyone to court without a cooperating victim, but we can, at the very least, separate the parties for the night by asking someone to leave and keep track of the number of times that couple has someone "fall down".


This is NOT the first violent incident, that's just what you were told. Those two things are not the same. Depending on how much of a stranger you are to this couple the odds of either person admitting the true nature and amount of violence in the relationship ranges from some to none. Victims of domestic violence can't admit the number to themselves, they massively under estimate these things even when they are coming to terms with it... (I've heard smart people, professionals who are very good at math, tell me that they've been hit once or twice a week for a year and then five minutes later describe it as a couple of times.) And if the guy with the knife wound really was the primary aggressor and started the thing well then, his estimate is going to be way low for another reason all together.

My advice/request: Call the police, I mean like right now, don't wait for it to happen again. Sure, nothing is going to happen really, no one is going to get charged and probably no one is even going to want to talk to the police, but the seed will be planted in both their minds, this is not ok, the police are interested, the police will come. Both the victim and the aggressor need to know that.
posted by BlueSock at 2:50 PM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Ok so that PS paragraph should have been at the bottom, whoops.
posted by BlueSock at 2:52 PM on July 19, 2012

BlueSock - while I sincerely appreciate your perspective, it is getting really old to be repeatedly told to call the police when I already did so. Please read the rest of the thread before offering useless advice. That said, your perspective on why it was a good idea was insightful and clearly coming from experience.
posted by dolce_voce at 5:22 PM on July 21, 2012

Update- no word from either one of them. No more fights over the last week. I've been half heartedly lookibg for a new place but would be happy staying here too. If anything big happens (another fight, etc), I'll post again; otherwise you all can assume it worked out alright, thank goodness.
posted by dolce_voce at 2:36 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

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