American in Spain

Domestic Violence

January 29, 2007

About a week ago, we started hearing noises from a neighboring apartment that, up until now, was completely silent. The noises were in the form of voices at 2:00 AM (from the wall that our bed is up against), some loud music, and recently some coughing and nose blowing consistent with someone with a cold. On Sunday morning, at 4:00 AM, we were awakened by some shouting. The "dialog" went something like this:

[man shouting angrily]

[whack!] [WHACK!]

[woman sobbing]

[some shuffling around the room]


[woman sobbing louder] Please no! Oh my god, stop! Don't hit me again! Please, god no! NOO!!


[sobbing more quietly]

[more shuffling]


Marga and I were paralyzed with horror. Do you have any idea what it's like to be two meters from someone who is desperately pleading for their life? It's one thing if you're in prison, maybe, but we were in our own home!

Clearly, we can't just do nothing and pretend it didn't happen. We have a moral obligation to society to, at the very least, report such violence to the authorities.

And here we have entered into the moral labyrinth that is Domestic Violence. Do we tell the police? What will the police do? From what I understand of the issue, there is a very high probability that the woman will deny that such violence occurs. Do the police tell a special domestic violence agency about it and they go to confront the woman? Or both of them? Marga's pretty sure that she heard a small child enter the room and start crying during all the commotion. So we don't have just the woman's well-being to weigh upon us (not that that shouldn't be enough).

Domestic violence is the second most advertised deadly societal problem on Spanish television (the first being highway deaths due to excessive speed). There are all kinds of commercials about centers to call and statistics about how many women have died each month from spousal abuse.

We haven't yet reported this first incident. I think we're definitely going to call the police every time it happens in the future. That's as far as I think we should get ourselves into the situation. In the end, it's the woman's problem to overcome, not ours. We can't fight that battle for her. She might need some counseling to overcome it, and I'm happy for my tax money to pay for that counseling, but I'm not about to go ring their doorbell thinking that I can solve things myself.

At the same time, I'm both annoyed and grateful for this. It's annoying to be jerked from your ignorant bliss to have your empathetic heart suffer a vicarious beating and be morally obliged to take action. But I'm also grateful to be reminded what a great relationship we've got, where home is a peaceful sanctuary shielding us from the problems in the outside world, not a place to be afraid to enter.

Having thankfully never experienced this social phenomenon before, I don't really understand all the psychological dynamics of the situation. Does anybody have any ideas or advice about how to handle this?