Help Make It Stop

// 4 July 2010

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Via Women’s Views on News, I discovered this video from the Metropolitan Police, telling people to dial 999 if they hear domestic violence attacks through the walls from their neighbours.

It shows the shocking statistic that almost 1 in 5 murders in London are the result of domestic violence, and ends with the statement, You make the call. We’ll make it stop.

It’s an issue that has provoked discussion with my friends over the years. Many, many of us have been in this situation, hearing arguments next door escalate, and wondering what to do.

I personally have dialled 999 when things sounded like they were getting really out of hand, but it wasn’t an easy decision. When you do dial 999, you fear that you will make things worse for the woman, when the man is released, if he is taken into custody at all. You fear that the police will not take it seriously. You even fear that you may be misinterpreting the situation, despite the smashing and screaming that you really can’t mistake.

But I did dial, on more than one occasion, because I feared that that would, indeed, be the time that he would kill her. Because I could not bear to hear her suffering and terror any longer. Because I could not live with myself if I just sat there and allowed it to happen. Because she was being beaten, her furniture was being thrown, and nobody should need to tolerate that. Because I could hear her daughter crying upstairs.

I dialled 999, but even having done it I was never 100% sure it had been the right thing. If it would make him more aggressive to her later. If the police would ‘make it stop’ at all. In the end I spoke to my neighbour alone, asked her if I had done the right thing, and asked whether I should I do it again, if necessary. She was a proud woman, and said she was fine, but did eventually agree that if it sounded really bad, I should call for help.

So what about you? Have you dialled 999 in that situation? Have you wanted to, but not dared? Have you decided against it? And why? What made you call, or what made you not call?

Comments From You

Mephit // Posted 4 July 2010 at 11:20 am

I once saw a woman struggling to get out of a moving car and saw the man she was with hit her. It didn’t look like an abduction scenario so much as domestic violence (I’m not sure why). I called the police and they found the couple through the car.

I agree it’s a difficult issue, but I think the right thing to do is to call. If she’d turned up dead, I’d have regretted inaction and perhaps the cops turning up on his doorstep would have given him pause. I think it’s better that women in that situation know that people notice what’s happening, think it’s wrong (and it’s him at fault) and care enough to do something, too.

To do nothing is almost to condone.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 4 July 2010 at 11:22 am

Mephit, that’s a really good point – that by calling the police, the woman being attacked knows that someone cares enough to try and stop it. Thanks.

Grace Fletcher-Hackwood // Posted 4 July 2010 at 11:31 am

Gotta be better than this – Hard to know what was actually going on here, but there were a lot of comments along these lines I know every woman’s situation is different, but imagine knowing your neighbours could hear you and were doing nothing…

Philippa Willitts // Posted 4 July 2010 at 11:35 am

Thanks Grace, I saw that link too, absolutely horrific.

anon // Posted 4 July 2010 at 12:04 pm

I was raped by my boyfriend, in the small block of flats we lived in at the time. I screamed for help for two hours – and seeing as the walls were thin enough to hear our neighbours making a cup of tea, they heard. Everything.

Nobody called the police. As a result he got away with it.

Dial 999 if in doubt, honestly. It’s the lesser of two evils.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 4 July 2010 at 12:08 pm

Anon – thank you for commenting, and I’m so, so sorry you went through this and that noone helped. It’s sobering, and definitely makes me think that calling 999 is the only way forward.

Sheila // Posted 4 July 2010 at 12:32 pm

Utterly useless. I called the police. My ex politely assured them that there was nothing to worry about and when they’d left he kicked the bathroom door in, where I’d locked myself.

I called the police when social services told me to stop my ex who was suspected of sexually abusing the children demanded to have unsupervised contact. They sided with him.

I called the police when one of my children made a disclosure of sexual abuse. They utterly disregarded their own protocols, interviewed the 5 year old child like a criminal, without taking any statement from me or social services. He didn’t disclose to them so they concluded I was hypersensitive.

There is no point in calling the police until they have proper training in how to deal with domestic violence. In fact, given the reprisals, it’s bloody dangerous to call the police. And furthemore, if you don’t call the police now, you’ll be blamed in court for not doing.

And when I did say I wanted to press charges, the police talked me out of it – because they “couldn’t protect me 24/7 and he might do worse if I went after him”.

I told one off duty policeman friend about the DV. He knew about it for 18 months before I formally reported it. When I told the police he’d known about it for this long and they challenged him, he lied to save his job.

I will never trust the police again.

sarah // Posted 4 July 2010 at 12:34 pm

I have recently called 999 twice because my neighbour was being attacked by his younger boyfriend.

I’ve had terrible experiences with the Met as a woman who has suffered violence, but I couldn’t think what else to do. The police did take it seriously and at least the incidents are documented. Unfortunately the relationship continues…

beth // Posted 4 July 2010 at 1:02 pm

We used to have a neighbour whose gf stayed over a lot. They had a volatile relationship and used to shout at each other a lot, but it usually sounded quite even and that it was just shouting, no violence.

But one night it sounded like it got WAY out of hand. We put our TV volume up and could still hear them, so we switched it off and listened, trying to work out what was going on. It sounded like furniture was getting smashed. We couldn’t establish whether anyone was getting hurt, but it sounded like a realistic possibility.

i picked up the phone to call 999, and i hesitated. i had no proof. would they open the door even if the police came round? would the neighbours target us if they realised it was us who’d called the police? would the police respond to the call anyway? I’ve discovered since that my local police force seem quite proactive about domestic violence – having regular campaigns that target abusers as well as urging their victims to come forward, the most recent (round the world cup) can be seen here – so i wish i had called, but at the time i thought it was a waste of time considering that i had no proof that anything was actually happening. but i spent the next few days hoping that everything was ok. i was so relieved when i saw them both alive.

i won’t hesitate to call next time.

Sheila your experiences sound absolutely horrendous. i’m so sorry you’ve had such terrible experiences.

A J // Posted 4 July 2010 at 5:11 pm

I think the difficulty is when things appear to be escalating, and knowing at which point it’s time to call. You don’t want to interfere when it’s just an argument, but knowing when it’s become something more than that is often pretty difficult when you’re just having to go on what you can hear through the walls. By the time you’re sure, it may be too late…

SOMEONE QUIET // Posted 4 July 2010 at 10:39 pm

I called the police when I could hear crashing, him shouting, her crying. It occasionally happens but this particular incident one weekend went on for hours and was escalating. My brother told me not to and that we’d made an enemy next door. The police came and took her to safety, and the policeman who came in was really nice. We’d done the right thing apparantly.

They stayed together and neither speak to us now. I don’t know if the abuse continues, we hear the occasional flare up. I make it a point to be away weekends now.

Not sure if I did the right thing or not.

polly // Posted 4 July 2010 at 11:09 pm

I did do this recently after an very aggressive row next door at 3 am, and was very impressed by the reaction of my local police force. Even though I told them the noise had stopped when they rang back after my initial 999 call, they said they still had to visit the property to check everyone was ok (ie it hadn’t only stopped because someone was dead/injured).

Very different from in the 90’s in London when a similar call was greeted with ‘everyone in Holloway is beating their wives tonight, it happens when the pubs close’.

My local police force have really made great strides with domestic violence work, though I can’t help wondering what the recent cuts will do to their initiatives.

And no, you can’t ‘make things worse’ by doing this in my opinion. Two women in my family have both been nearly killed by violent partners. They were only NOT killed because someone else intervened, in both cases. In one case physically knocking the man out, in the other calling the police and an ambulance when the woman managed to escape from a car and ask for help.

Lydia // Posted 5 July 2010 at 1:00 am

I think that we have the idea sometimes that because the violence is occurring within a relationship, it isn’t our business. That it’s private and personal.

I was beaten regularly by an ex boyfriend. His mum walked in once and just told us to keep it down. Another time he did it in front of his friends. None of them said or did anything. They just looked awkward and shuffled off.

(When I left him, he harassed me. I told the police, and told them about the repeated assaults. They told me he was just heartbroken, despite me showing them death threats he’d sent me.)

I needed somebody to step in because I couldn’t get away by myself. I needed somebody to say that I mattered enough to be protected.

Based on this, I’d say call 999. You might be the strength she (or he) needs to get away.

maggie // Posted 5 July 2010 at 10:23 am

I witnessed a woman being attacked by a man in a doctor’s waiting room once. Another bloke stepped in very quickly to try and stop the violence while I calmed down an elderly person sitting beside me who was in an awful state. The reception staff, amazingly, had not rung the police and the man ran away. The woman didn’t want the police called anyway. Did she really have that choice to make? Her ‘rescuer’, a lawyer, was most adamant it was a police matter. I then went in to see the doctor who reassured me that everything was under control and not to make a fuss, as I was asking if the person I was comforting was okay. This was 20 years ago. Ironically, I was given bad news regarding my health on that appointment.

I agree that a phone call is necessary because it does show that you care enough to do something about it.

Sheila // Posted 5 July 2010 at 12:13 pm

I think people have to be wary about the mentality of “showing that you care enough to do something about it”. I wish that a call to 999 were more effective, but the stats are that the time when women are most at risk of domestic homicide is when they are attempting to leave a violent relationship, with agency involvement. Involving authorities can inflame a situation which is tense enough and disempower a person who is trying to figure out teh best course for themselves and their children without the conflicting advice and lack of support they get from all the different governmental agencies. It isn’t about you trying to prove you care enough, it’s about what’s in the victim’s best interests. At the point where 999 calls are made, these long term interests are very difficult to ascertain. But the truth is that many women go back to violent relationships time and time again and are punished for involving authorities, even by the authorities themselves who doubt her word or exacerbate things. I’m not saying don’t make 999 calls, but (a) don’t do it to make a point about yourself being a nice caring sort of person and (b) don’t expect thanks – but even expect reprisals and loss of friendships and certainly frosty neighbour relationships and (c) don’t expect it to be a panacea, because it won’t be. Unless the situation is life or limb threatening at that immediate time, it would be better to talk to Womens Aid, and engage with the woman on escape plans which are more methodical than some sudden and aggressive intervention which the police represent.

That said, I wish people had called the police for me, rather than me having to do it myself, as at least I could then have blamed the neighbours rather than facing the repercussions myself.

A dial 999 campaign is only as good as the back up that’s provided afterwards, and at the moment that is pitiful in many parts of the country.

cath // Posted 5 July 2010 at 12:46 pm

It is a difficult decision all right.

An example of how things can go wrong was when a woman set alight by her husband ran to a neighbours house.

She wanted them to let her in.

They kept the door locked and called the police.

The police could not understand her speech. They could understand her husband who said “she is mad, she set fire to herself”, and they believed him (they were both men). They took her to the local psychiatric hospital.

She therefore wishes the police had not been called, in fact she now hates them..

I am not saying the neighbours were wrong, just that this is the kind of thing that can happen when you have rely on strangers for help.. in this case uniformed police..

Gemma // Posted 5 July 2010 at 5:10 pm

We called the police when we heard a horrible fight upstairs a couple of months ago. Police and social services came and the man was arrested and we didn’t see him for a while. Now he has been charged, even though his wife wanted to drop the case and I have been called to be a witness. He is intimidating me and my girlfriend and we both feel scared of him, but there is nothing the police can/will do. She wants him back, so now I’m the ‘bad guy’ and don’t feel safe in my own home. If i had known that she would want to drop charges, but that they would still go ahead, I don’t know if I would have called. I probably would. The screams were just too awful, I called instinctively. I’d think twice now. It doesn’t seem right that I have to now worry about leaving my girlfriend alone in the house, when I just wanted to do the right thing.

Mephit // Posted 5 July 2010 at 7:35 pm

(Sheila) I don’t think anyone is trying to make a point about being a caring person or expecting thanks.

If you’re at the moment of hearing an incident through the walls or whatever, you’ve no way of knowing how it’ll end. I think taking the chance she’ll be ok enough to be sign-posted to Woman’s Aid the next day – well, it’s not one I’d be comfortable with.

maggie // Posted 5 July 2010 at 7:51 pm

I have to disagree Sheila. I’ve recently helped a friend to leave an abusive marriage. He was raping her. She told me that she had involved outside agencies but let something slip – she was ‘told off’ for doing this. I reassured her there was nothing to worry about and that he really couldn’t care less what was going on unless his concerns were met which she was paying meticulous attention to.

However, it now transpires that the next door neighbours knew of her twice weekly rapes – semi detached house. Yet they never phoned the police. She hates them even more now. This went on for six years.

Sheila // Posted 6 July 2010 at 8:01 am


Spot on. I’ve been called as a witness in the same circumstances, now the couple (back together although he’s still abusive) won’t talk to me which is pretty awkward in a small community, where he’s ex-Army and physically intimidating for me.

Mephit and Maggie, don’t judge until you’ve actually been there.

I’ve been there. I’ve been a victim of DV who called the police, sometimes who didn’t call the police, sometimes wished neighbours had. I’ve called the police myself on behalf of another – and got reprisals for doing it.

And you are ignoring that I said, “Unless the situation is life or limb threatening at that immediate time, it would be better to talk to Womens Aid, and engage with the woman on escape plans which are more methodical than some sudden and aggressive intervention which the police represent.” So,as I said, if you think there is immediate danger of serious physical assault, call the police. But true support for a neighbour doesn’t stop there. How many of you have taken a DV victim into your home to stay for a few days whilst they decide what to do? I have – despite knowing that meant that a violent man could target my house and my children, as well as me. The police aren’t good at DV in my experience. Make yourselves good at understanding DV and what to do to help and society would be a better and safer place. The police alone is simply not the answer.

maggie // Posted 6 July 2010 at 10:33 am

I agree Sheila, the police alone is simply not the matter.

Backup services are needed as well as family and friend support. Yes, I’ve helped someone get out of an abusive relationship. Not just the physical removal of her and her children’s stuff, but helped with chidcare, meals, and emotional backup. I wouldn’t dream of judging, as all situations require a unique approach. I apologise, Sheila, if I gave you that impression.

Sheila // Posted 6 July 2010 at 12:41 pm

Thanks Maggie

I am pleased this thread has been so constructive. There should be more people like you.

Marianne // Posted 6 July 2010 at 12:46 pm

I have called the police when overhearing what sounded like a horrendous situation, and the next day got yelled at and called an interfering c*** by the woman for whose life I had feared – all the while glaring at me with the black eyes her lovely boyfriend had given her!

I thought, okay. I won’t interfere again. I cannot even begin to understand someone with that mentality. I have spoken to other people about this, and some said the beaten woman reacted towards them aggressively – as if they were interfering with her right to be beaten and abused! Sorry, but I just don’t get it. You have got to want to help yourself before anyone else can help you.

Cycleboy // Posted 7 July 2010 at 11:45 am

My neighbour said he often called the police when the previous owner of our house had noisy parties.

Perhaps one line of reasoning towards making the decision to call the police is to consider it in this light, thus avoiding the difficulty of trying to decide whether it is a seriously violent incident or not. That way, if you’re challenged by said neighbour, you can always claim that you were merely complaining about the noise and didn’t know it was a DV incident. A little disingenuous, but it does give you a possible line of retreat.

Of course, the police might not respond as quickly to a nuisance call as to a DV one.

Gerturdeanna // Posted 8 July 2010 at 9:32 pm

I’m in a situation at the moment where a couple across the road have major rows and I can hear furniture smashing and the girl crying and shouting at him to stop – I’ve phoned the police on two occasions but each time they have left without him. I don’t speak to them, never have and I don’t think I’ll start now. I will however keep calling the police, just because you never know if it may go too far and there ends up a corpse across the road!

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