Tell Me About It

I can hear the next-door neighbours shouting vicious abuse at each other

Tell Me About It: The level of aggression has risen to an almost unbearable level

PROBLEM: I think the possibility of domestic violence is increasing in the house next door, but I am unsure how to intervene. I live in a row of terraced houses and my neighbours are a couple with young children.

They are both working full-time and, in the past, have had disagreements that could easily be heard through the walls but then things seemed to quieten down for a while.

However, since Covid, both of them are working from home and the level of aggression and toxicity in their arguments has increased to an almost unbearable level. I can hear them shouting vicious verbal abuse at each other, doors slamming and then sometimes total silence for days. They do not seem to have any control recently and I really fear for their little kids. I also am concerned for my own child.I am a single parent and her bedroom is up against their wall and I know she has stopped sleeping and she keeps coming back into my bed, something she has not done since she was a little girl.

There are no neighbours on the other side of their house, as it has been for sale for a long time, so I don’t have anyone else to consult. I really want to do something but worry that I might make things worse, that I will get blamed and targeted for interfering, or that my daughter will live in fear of retaliation.

I worry about their children and I worry most about how much this has escalated in the past few months.

ADVICE: It is known there has been a rise in domestic violence since the start of Covid and there is no doubt that the effect of being confined to home has increased this risk in some families. The pandemic has also increased the awareness of our neighbours’ lives, as we are witnessing far more due to the sheer amount of time we are spending in each other’s spaces.

This raises the question of where the boundary lies between a couple’s privacy and the need to intervene for safety’s sake, and it seems that you have been hovering on this line for a while now.

Before you get involved you need to ask yourself if it’s safe and legal to intervene. You have a few options, all of which have ambiguities and consequences and these need to be considered carefully.

If you feel that violence is taking place, or is imminent, you need to contact the gardaí on 999. They have specifically trained domestic violence staff who can assess and deal with the situation. You can report anonymously on 1800 666111 and this has the advantage of collaborating any other reports the gardaí may have received on the situation.

What is clear is that you should not intervene during an especially voracious row

However, you may not feel the situation is at this level and you may wish to take some action to alert the couple to the fact that their behaviour is noticed and hope that this triggers them into getting some help. What is important to know here is that the victims of domestic abuse are often most at-risk following disclosure, and the person best placed to assess that risk is the victim themselves.

Therefore, the best move (if going this route) is to speak to your neighbour whom you think is the partner most at risk and approach them in an understanding, non-blaming way. Let them know you are concerned and are there for them if they want to talk. It is a good idea to have some contact details for support services should you be asked and you can look these up on safeireland.ie or by phoning 1800 341900 for local support services. In fact, it is a good idea to have made contact with these services so that you have back-up and confidence in any action you are taking.

It is not clear from your letter if you know your neighbours well enough to speak to them directly. If not, you might apply bystander intervention techniques which include using distraction (to allow the victim to gather themselves and decide what they need); delegation (getting others involved who may have influence); or directly (if it is appropriate and safe to do so). Type “bystander training” into a web browser to find more information on this topic.

What is clear is that you should not intervene during an especially voracious row. This might put you at risk and the focus of the aggression might turn towards you. This might have the added effect of your daughter becoming even more traumatised by the thought of you being hurt. You might pick a time to talk to your neighbour when you are both outside the house and it is early enough in the day for any help to be sourced and actioned. You too will need to be supported and, to this end, you might have a friend or family member either physically or emotionally there for you while this is going on.

This is a challenging and difficult situation you find yourself in but there is a huge amount of knowledge and support available

There are a number of children endangered in the situation you are describing (including your daughter) and their welfare has to be at the forefront of any decisions or actions taken.

Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) have social workers who are trained and experienced in assessing risk for children and they can be contacted for advice on tusla.ie. Your own daughter should no longer sleep with her bed up against the neighbour’s house so for a while you should organise for her bed to be in your room. This will allow her to associate sleep with safety. It is also important that you acknowledge (and not dismiss) her concerns and fears about what is going on while telling her that you and other adults will address the situation; but she will need to trust that you are not doing this alone so ensure that you are protected.

This is a challenging and difficult situation you find yourself in but there is a huge amount of knowledge and support available. Any of the agencies mentioned will be equipped and skilled in offering advice on how to deal with the suspected domestic violence situation next door to you.