Something a bit weird happened at 2am the other night. No, nothing conjugal or baby related. This was a social awakening.
I woke up to a series of awful screams, being emitted by at least three different women, somewhere outside. They dissipated, and I drifted back off to sleep. Then five minutes later, more screaming, and men shouting. Again, it stopped shortly after.
The third time, my husband woke up. “What the fuck is that?” He climbed out of bed and opened the curtain, peering up and down the road. He cracked the window, and the waves of noise filled the room. Blood-curdling, shrieking screams of increasing pitch. More shouting. Swearing.
“I think it’s coming from down there…” my husband gestured towards the small close, a hundred or so meters from our house. “Mmm.” I replied, not knowing what to do.
In my head, I’d decided that if a serious offence was being committed, someone else surely must have seen and heard it and would be taking action. I wasn’t going to send my husband out to investigate, because what if he got stabbed? I had my own family to protect.
Something about the screams made me think it was a gaggle of youngsters, early hours revellers, pissing about. Hanging around in a cul-de-sac, roaring drunk. Because surely, if it was rape or assault or murder, someone else would have woken up and noticed. Plus, attackers don’t let their victims just scream and scream, they silence them. Somehow. Don’t they?Anyway was it for me to action, one person in a vicinity containing an estimated 200 people? Who would I even phone? Could I dial 999 and report unidentified screaming or was it a matter for the non-emergency line?
So we stood, my husband and I, by the window. We waited for the screams to stop, gave it an obligatory ten minutes listening out for a reprise, then went back to bed.
At 5am I woke again, the baby was unsettled and came in with us. I looked at the local newspaper website on my phone. What was I looking for? A report of a serious assault in a city suburb some three hours previously? Did (as one would expect) seeing a news feed devoid of any such incident mean that nothing happened? Of course not. And what if something had been on the website, what would that have provoked within me? Vindication that yes, there was a fracas, and isn’t it awful that it was on our road? Or guilt, because I heard and ignored it?
I consider myself pretty streetwise. My husband has shown me a few “moves” to execute should I ever be attacked – instead of a knee to the groin, try to administer a jab to the eyes with my nails. Press a thumb in the throat. Just enough to shock my attacker and allow me a split second to run.
But what if I was attacked, and I couldn’t escape, and all I had was one or two screams? One lungful of air to shout as loudly as I could and alert passers by or local residents that I needed help? What if people heard, and no-one came, for fear of getting embroiled themselves or feeling embarrassed because it was just kids dicking around? What if my life was altered irreparably because someone lacked the courage to stand up and take a risk?
I’m sure that, back in “the day”, people would have flocked from their beds, to see what the hell was going on. Probably, they would shout and admonish the perpetrators if it was just drunken japes. “Don’t you know what bloody hour of the night it is? Folks round here are trying to SLEEP!”
But somewhere along the line, fear of doing wrong AND fear of doing right seems to have clouded our judgement, our respect for the social conscious. How do we get it back? Is it through increased police patrols and a greater sense of community engagement? Is it education around self-defence? A blanket refresh of the neighbourhood watch scheme, once a mainstay of our streets before we stopped knowing and caring who our neighbours are?
I can’t shake the grubby feeling that I heard, I witnessed, I failed to act. Nothing was ever reported in the local press about an altercation or assault that night, but of course that’s not to say it didn’t happen. My nervous optimism wants to maintain that it was nothing. But that’s not the right outlook, is it? It’s not right.
– SJW November 2016