How to deal with possible domestic violence situation next door.
January 28, 2016 9:44 PM   Subscribe

The new couple over the back fence argue loudly and quite possibly violently at least four or five times a week. Besides the fact it's deeply disturbing, I'm worried that there's a battered partner involved who may need actual help escaping the relationship. Possibly. It's all really murky and I could use some guidance.

So, first up, we're in Brisbane, Australia, so any legal resources or the like will have to be relevant here.

The couple in question are heterosexual and fairly young, both in their mid twenties, and have only been there a few months. She seems pretty petty, jealous and short tempered, and flies off the handle at him for god knows what. I only really hear what she has to say (shout) about whatever dispute they're having, but it generally seems to center on him interacting with other women, or "disrespecting" her. Other times it's different things but the overall outlook is that the relationship is basically toxic. They started out fairly calmly but things have been escalating of late, and the arguments have gone from one every other week to one every other day.

At this point I can't say for sure if there's actual physical violence. The trajectory is generally she shouts quite horrific abuse at him for forty minutes, which he counters quietly enough that I can't make it out (I can just make out his voice) then he drives off for a few hours, with her standing on the stoop hurling some hair-curling invectives at him as he leaves.

Occasionally there is screaming and wailing, breaking crockery and thumping.

So, this is a pretty toxic relationship all round. I know that some people are pretty passionate with their lovers but this is way over the line into at least verbally abusive domestic violence.

I want to offer some support for him in order to either help him leave the relationship or at least get some kind of couples therapy. There are two big problems here, as far as I can see it:

1) One of her triggers seems to be him "flirting" with other women, and I'm pretty clearly a woman. I've known DV situations where saying hello at the letterbox is enough to cause and argument and I don't want to be initiating contact if all it's going to do is make his life worse;
2) While she's the loud one, it's entirely possible that he's retaliating to it with violence and approaching him will make it harder for *her* to leave, and given the limited contact I've had with them it's entirely possible I'm misreading some key elements;

3) It's possible also that they're mutually battering one another, which is something way out of my field of experience.

I don't know. It's a fucking mess. I'm sorely tempted to just phone the cops to report the situation, and hope their DV liason people can disentangle the situation a bit, but I'd really, really, rather not. As I mentioned, I've known people who've gotten out of DV, and the cops almost never help and tend to make it worse.

So, thoughts? I've limited my interactions with them to the odd "hello" over the fence, mostly when they're hanging washing and I'm playing with my small son in the yard - our sandpit basically overlooks their flat. I'm not close to them at all and it's gunna take some work to get past some fairly basic social differences, as they are much younger than me and are at a very different place in their lives, even with the DV factored out.

How do I approach this? Do I approach it at all? Is there even a way I can do anything? Should I just let it go?
posted by Jilder to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
Next time you hear thumping or anything that sounds like there may be be a physical side to this, call the police.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:49 PM on January 28, 2016 [26 favorites]

I'm sorry your experiences with the police and DV weren't good as my experiences were the opposite. I've been a child cowering in a bedroom during screaming and smashing objects kind of fights and having the police arrive was great - really difused the situation. I can see that they may not have been a great help with longer term stuff (and with my parents there was no actual violence towards another person) but I think they are pretty good at calmly diffusing the immediate situation, everyone stops yelling and it can break the loop of escalation, for that night at least. Plus it was embarrassing enough that life was calmer for ages afterwards.

Definitely call if you hear thumping or anything that may even remotely be someone being injured, no harm in being wrong, just the noise they are making is justification enough to call the police (for non-australian mefites, it really is very safe calling the police here).
posted by kitten magic at 9:57 PM on January 28, 2016 [12 favorites]

I wish my neighbors had called the police.
posted by sockermom at 10:09 PM on January 28, 2016 [30 favorites]

Response by poster: I want to be perfectly clear here - I am thinking about them because they are that loud I *can't* not think about them. The shouting is louder than the train line that is immediately behind both properties. I haven't been going through their mail or listening in at the door. There's like, 80 metres at least between our two walls, a fence, and a thick screen of trees. The fact that I can still hear all this is problem enough, and should give you an indication of the level of violence here.

As I mentioned, I have also known people who have escaped DV, and whenever I hear the shouting all I can think about is how hard it was for them, and how hard it was for them to get out. All I am recalling is my friends beaten to a pulp, with broken bones. I am involved because I think it would be inhumane to shrug my shoulders and just wait for the day when someone murders someone else.

I don't want to be involved. I'm not listening to this, twitching my curtains and tutting. I'm thinking about how there is clearly some serious pain happening there.
posted by Jilder at 10:18 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just call the police every time they fight.
posted by ryanrs at 10:31 PM on January 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I've been in your shoes and the other issue, is of course, the repercussions/retaliation for notifying police. If you can slip the guy a card, try this website:

The police also have a non-urgent phone number and you could ring and ask them what you should do and what will happen:

Perhaps things have changed in terms of how domestic violence is treated - I certainly hope so.
posted by b33j at 10:47 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also I would not suggest taking them under your wing (you don't seem to be contemplating this anyway) because so much could go wrong - not least being you suddenly acquire millstones who suck the emotional life out of you, and money ...
posted by b33j at 10:49 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been the guy. Even if there's no bodily harm, you shouldn't have to live with this crap. Don't get personally involved. Call the cops.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:50 PM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hi. You have a family. That is your focus. Please do not get personally involved. I know you MUST do something - please do not do that. OK?

It's super possible this escalation in arguments signals the end of their relationship and soon they will not be your neighbors. They obviously do not get along with each other. The GREAT NEWS is the BF leaves and drives off. He knows how to escape. It's OK. You do not have to parent this couple.

It sucks they are so emotionally messy, but this is none of your business, per se.

If you are confident the police won't shoot someone accidentally (I live in LA, that's a concern now) you can call 911 (or equivalent for Brisbane) and report a domestic dispute when it gets loud. This is anonymous, and usually appropriate unless your police are likely to shoot folks without cause.

You are reading into a lot here. You are buying a lot of trouble. Don't do that.

I validate that these arguments are loud. Call the police and report a domestic disturbance. Stay out of it, otherwise.
Ideally, they think a next door neighbor called, and not you. If you do call, you might not be the first to report them. No worries.

I would not get involved personally. BF already knows to drive off to cool down. Your assumptions he can not figure this out on his own are drama making.
posted by jbenben at 11:56 PM on January 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Ring the non-emergency police number in the daytime. Not on a Friday or Saturday night, they are staffed by the same cops and you will get a very short answer during 'peak periods', as opposed to a cop who has the time to discuss it with you when they're not flatout.

Explain the situation and ask for their advice. DV is getting more attention and resources (NSW police are rolling out dedicated DV officers, even our little tiny country town is getting one), so hopefully Qld police are doing the same, or at least giving higher priority to DV.

You don't mention if they have kids. If by some chance they do, please please PLEASE report it to Qld community services, numbers are here.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:18 AM on January 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

Call the police when you hear it escalating. Please. Every time, not just once. (And it probably goes without saying, but make sure you tell them that you are concerned about a potential domestic abuse situation rather than making a noise complaint.)

There should be no repercussions for you - the police will not tell them who made the report.

In the meantime, you could call the Qld Mensline number and ask for advice.

Please don't ignore it. Sockermom nailed it. This could be your friend, your brother, your father, your work colleague, a fellow AskMeFi-ite.
posted by finding.perdita at 2:30 AM on January 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: They don't have kids, so there's that. I'm also not keen on befriending them - I don't think it would be a great idea for a whole heap of reasons. I'm pretty certain the relationship is disintegrating, which is kind of what prompted this - it's the most dangerous time for DV situations.

I'll get onto the non-emergency number at some point tomorrow.
posted by Jilder at 3:42 AM on January 29, 2016

I called the police on a neighbour once, when a very loud argument escalated into bumping and screaming, and I was nervous that it was turning violent.

They entered the property calmly, and later on sent officers to each neighbour to ask them what they'd overheard. After I'd answered their questions, I very quietly said it was actually me who called you, I was just worried and I'm sorry if you feel like it wasn't a good enough reason to call. I was tired and freaked out and just a bit anxious that I'd wasted police time on some shouting. But the officer looked me in the eye hard and said "you did the right thing to call".

So dont' feel weird about doing it. Call the police next time, and the time after if necessary.
posted by greenish at 3:43 AM on January 29, 2016 [15 favorites]

Your first priority is to your son, who can hear this mess. Call the police every time they get loud. They sound like they deserve one another but your son deserves better. Don't let them force their disfunction on your family.

Whatever you do, do not get involved other than calling the police. Your son does not need to see these crazy people yelling at his mommy.
posted by myselfasme at 4:17 AM on January 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

The same thing is happening with my neighbours but with the husband being violent (his trigger being her not giving him money). It's very difficult, especially at night. I just call the police when it sounds like it's getting physical (which is difficult to gauge - he throws and breaks things so it's hard to tell if he's actually touching her or trying to scare her). Last time, I heard screaming and complete silence straight after which scared me enough to call them. I was terrified. What else can you do? You're very involved in the story (as am I, I should add) and I know it's really hard not to be but I would try to avoid getting too involved with why these things are happening/the motivations. This is what I am trying to do.

Please call the police (these people may even be on police record somewhere as my neighbour is). I often feel I should call them more. I feel for your son. I grew up with a very violent neighbour (not the same guy) and I believe that my anxiety was the result of that. You shouldn't have to move but if you can (if nothing changes) then i'd consider it for the sake of your son.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:56 AM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Humans are social. If there is no response to their behavior, they continue it, and it may get worse. In addition, they are disturbing the peace - your peace. If you believe there might be violence, call. If your peace is disturbed, call. It's hard on cops, but enforcing the law and keeping the peace is their job; they *should* have training.
posted by theora55 at 6:45 AM on January 29, 2016

I would call the cops. And refrain from making any comments like She seems pretty petty, jealous and short tempered, and flies off the handle at him for god knows what.
posted by the webmistress at 6:49 AM on January 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing call the cops. I did this when I lived across the hall from a DV situation. I never regretted it once.
posted by missmobtown at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Calling the cops can absolutely make things worse. The cops could be non-helpful, and their introduction into the situation could just be another trigger for future abuse.

Worse, the cops could well directly cause problems. People get arrested in situations like this, have their lives ruined, sometimes even get shot. And sometimes it turns out that the situation was not anywhere near as bad as it appeared from the outside.

I lived next door to a couple for a couple of years that basically fit your description word for word (although they stayed pretty constantly at the every other week level). It was stressful to live next to, but I never called the cops on them. I did find myself trying to subtly check them out for bruises the day after a big fight though.

In your situation, the second I saw a sign of actual physical violence, I would call the police. Until then, I would be reluctant to do so because I would rather people be yelling at each other than that they be in trouble with the police. The above goes double obviously if either or both of them are part of a discriminated against ethnic or culture group.

All that said, it's REALLY hard to do the calculus of whether the risk of police brutality or incompetence is worse than the risk that there is real violence going on next door. It fucking sucks to be in the position to have to make that call, and you'll need to rely on your gut feelings about the couple as well as your impression of the local police. I was living in Philadelphia at the time I was in this situation. There are certainly other places in the world where I would have been more likely to call the cops on someone.
posted by 256 at 12:45 PM on January 29, 2016

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