*Trigger Warning: Following Post Discusses Domestic Violence and Assault.*
I moved into a new spacious apartment after coming back from winter vacation in early January. I absolutely love my new apartment and my French roommates; it is a lot more spacious and in a much better location in the city in regards to where I work and where I hang out with my friends. However, after about three nights in the apartment, I awoke on Monday morning to the most horrible sound imaginable: a woman being abused by her husband.
The screaming, yelling, and shouting was almost unbearable. The pounding and banging of fists, and the rattling of what sounded like a crowbar falling on the floor was enough to get me sobbing and shaking from my apartment just one floor above. This man’s booming voice filled up the entire building and then some for almost 45 minutes. The woman’s screams of “Arrête, Arrête!” and the sight of their baby stroller that sits outside are enough to give me nightmares and shivers every time I climb the stairs past their door to the second floor.
I wanted to help this woman– I wanted to do what any sensible person would have done and called the police. However, I realized that I didn’t know how to call the police in France; being alone in the apartment I didn’t have the number to call, and I realized I didn’t know the protocol either. Furthermore, I knew I absolutely could not go down to that apartment, for fear of my own safety and putting my own life in danger. It made me sick to my stomach to know that I was nothing but a bystander in this situation– as was every other person living in this apartment building. I went about my day very shaken up, but determined to figure out the appropriate actions to take in a foreign country.
I have talked to several different French people about this day, and many of the responses have made me sick to my stomach and quite frankly disgusted by this country. I have been overwhelmingly told by most to just leave it be, and that what is going on in this home is a private manner. I’m sorry- but is it 1955? I have been told that I need to wait for it to happen a few more times, and be absolutely positive that he is hitting her (and that he is not just throwing objects or hitting a wall) before I call the police (because really, intense violent yelling and the use of inanimate objects in a violent manner does not constitute “legitimate abuse.”) I have been told that people do not like dealing with the police, and that the police are no help and they do not take things like domestic violence very seriously in France. I have been told not call the police for fear that they would tell the man that their upstairs neighbors (three young adult females) called them– and that in return he could harass us or be violent with us (an actual legitimate concern.) I was told that if I do call the police, I need to be prepared to give information about myself– it’s not just an anonymous call. In fact, I need to ask the police if I want my call to remain anonymous (as far as I know, in the states it is simply not this complicated!) Finally, I was told not to call the police because this family comes from an Arab country, the argument was overwhelmingly in Arabic, the woman wears a hijab, and the family probably therefore practices Islam, French law enforcement wants nothing to do with them. FYI- There is A LOT of individual racism against Arab people in this country– to the point where being a racist and being a racist against Arabs are considered two different ways of life, and the latter is acceptable. Last time I checked, there was still a WOMAN in Trouble!
Curiously enough, most women I have talked here in France agree that it is a good idea for me to call the police, where as most men agree that I shouldn’t, although the responses above come from both men and women (but the majority of these comments came from men). Sometimes I wonder if I should be more afraid of the abusers here in France or the way people are responding to domestic violence– either way it is not going to stop if people continue to react like this.
Don’t get me wrong, I know many, many wonderful French men (and men of all nationalities). But the way that the majority of France and its citizens believe in handling domestic violence is sad and disheartening. (Even worse, I know that it’s not just France.) Maybe I’m lucky that I’ve never experienced this type of domestic violence (or maybe the men in my life are just what people would call decent human beings). This mentality that is carried in France carries over to all other areas of engrained misogyny– that street harassment is normal and apart of everyday life, and it’s my job as a woman to prevent it from happening; that I shouldn’t travel alone (but especially without a man); that I still need men to carry my things; that women still need to change their last names when they get married. This overall mentality carries over to the normalization and acceptance of Violence Against Women. This mentality is why Chris Brown has a job.
It is not until both men and women (but especially men) step up and start changing the way they view and fight Violence Against Women. It’s not enough to simply say, “Well, I would never hit a woman.” (PS- would you like a prize or a trophy for being a decent human being and doing what is expected of you?) We need to start doing things such as calling the police, knowing where to find the nearest domestic abuse shelter, spreading awareness during Domestic Violence Awareness Month (in October, though it is usually overshadowed by Breast Cancer) and start talking to our friends and families whom we believe may be victims or perpetrators. We need to stop racial profiling domestic abuse to one specific race or religion; it happens to as many as 1 in 4 women (and 1 in 3 women of color.) We need to stop supporting artists such as Chris Brown, and we need to stop normalizing violence against women in music, television shows, and movies.
I know I won’t be able to save the world with this one post, but maybe, just maybe, I will be able to get people talking, thinking, and changing a simple action or two. Pay it forward, right?
By the way, the number for the police in France is 17; the number for the fire department is 18; the number for an ambulance is 15. An emergency number is 112. Next time it happens, now that I know, I will be speaking with my landlord and be making an anonymous call to the police.