Silence is not golden when it comes to domestic violence.
This is an extremely difficult subject to broach, but one I feel is important for all of us to be aware of, so we can hold ourselves more accountable.
A year ago, I read an article shared by a leading gender equity adviser to the military. She had noticed a distressed woman with her child at the local park. While reason sought to override her sense that something was wrong, she eventually approached the woman and asked her if she needed any help. It turned out that the woman had just fled a violent partner with her young child and nothing but the clothes on her back, and was completely unsure what to do.
The article went on to share how the adviser remained with the woman to ensure she was safely transported to a women's shelter. It was a long wait and even though she was busy, and had lots of things to do that day, she had stepped up, asked the question and chosen to be an advocate for the safety of this woman and her child. The adviser put the call out to each reader to not turn a blind eye if they had the same opportunity – and never be afraid to ask the question.
This article truly challenged me, and I was inspired by the action to care for another in place of family and step up as community to advocate for the vulnerable.
A week later I was driving home from a night out with my mother’s group. I noticed reflections on the sidewalk ahead, and realised as I grew closer that they were from a pair of girl’s sneakers as she moved erratically back and forth, from the path to the road.
As I watched my gut instincts started stirring. I saw the girl hurriedly trying to keep up with a larger figure walking ahead of her and then was shocked to see that when she did catch up, he pushed her with great force into a parked car.
My mouth was agape I slowed down to watch on the other side of the road, as he did this several times. He was obviously furious, and she was extremely distressed. My mind was racing, questioning if there might be any logical reason that the treatment of the girl was acceptable, and realising that if this was happening on the sidewalk with numerous cars driving past, anything might happen behind closed doors, once they were home.
Nervously, I took a U-turn and drove back down their side of the road. I pulled up (making sure my doors were locked) and called out to the girl, "Excuse me are you okay? Do you need help?"
My heart was in my throat. The man was menacing and swearing at me to mind my own business as he marched away, keeping her in his grip. She sobbed uncontrollably and could not get any words out, instead looking over at me and shaking her head apologetically while reaching her arm out in thanks. I said, again (still terrified), "Do you need help? You don’t have to go with him!"
It was absolutely none of my business, but it was important that she knew I had seen what was happening. I noticed and I cared, and tried to help. It's what I would want someone to do if they saw me or my children in the same situation.
I lost sight of the 2 of them as they walked on, and called police assistance while trying to tail them to get an exact location. That was all I could do. I don’t know if the police caught up with them, confronted the guy being violent, or if she is safe.
But I think of her often. I spoke up to intervene and even though I didn’t get out of the car as I needed to look out for my own safety, I hadn't driven away.
I hope when she is ready to do something, she is heard, embraced, and helped. Our national statistics on domestic violence are distressing. Even though we all have busy lives we can choose to be aware, to notice and to ask the question.
If this piece has affected you, and you need assistance, please reach out to the national 24 hour Domestic And Family Violence Support Line on 1800 671 458 or 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).