Life / Mental health / Mental Health & Wellbeing

Kitty Genovese Would Have Faired No Better In Suburban England

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“Slums may well be breeding grounds of crime, but middle class suburbs are incubators of apathy and delirium.” ~ Cyril Connolly

I have post traumatic stress disorder, as you probably know already. You probably also know that the side effects of post traumatic stress disorder include nightmares, flashbacks, and generalised anxiety. You may or may not have realised that in practice that makes me a somewhat noisy person to have as a neighbour.

On the nights when I have the worst nightmares I tend to wake up screaming. When I have flashbacks there’s a lot of shouting, and sometimes also screaming. I also have a tendency to yell at things when I’m in the midst of the worst form of panic attacks. And when I say screaming, and shouting, and yelling, I mean like I sound like I’m being pretty violently attacked. I mean, half the time I’m doing it because I’m reliving being attacked.

My neighbours must think I’m a crazy person because there’s no chance that they could have failed to hear me. Same goes for anyone walking past the house. They don’t know me, they’ve never even met me, so they think that either I’m crazy or suffering some pretty horrendous domestic abuse.

And yet not one single person, not one single time, has ever either come round and knocked on the door to ask after me or called the emergency services to ask them to come and check on happening.

And I just can’t imagine doing that. Living like that. I mean, I can’t imagine that the couple who sleep in the bedroom just the other side of the wall from me have simply assumed that the times I’ve woken them up were because I happen to be suffering from PTSD. I mean, when you don’t know what’s going on with something what you imagine is always worse than what’s actually happening, right? Especially in the middle of the night. So they’ve got think that something’s happening to me; that, or that my mental health is currently far, far worse than what it is.

And yet they don’t do anything.

They just ignore it.

Presumably because they don’t care.

It can’t be that they feel unsafe. I’ve seen both of them, they’ve seen both of us, they have approximately three times the greater mass. Also, they have the same party-political flyers shoved through their door banging on about how this is the safest district in the safest city in the country.

Besides which no-one’s going to get shot, stabbed, or beaten mystically across the 3G network if they place a call to the local police station while staying safely tucked up in bed.

I have no idea what their deal is.

I suppose they may have just become used to the interruption and learned to ignore it; I’m now a part of their background noise. They’ve seen me coming and going, seen that I’m in one piece and decided that I’m fine so they tune out the sounds of my illness they same way they do the traffic and the other neighbours’ kids.

But what could they possibly have been thinking the first time? Or the second? Or the time after that? Before what was for all they knew the sound of the woman next door being raped or beaten up became part of a pattern that they could imagine an explanation for and dismiss.

I can’t think of a scenario to which I could relate.

I know I’d call the police if it sounded like anyone was hurting them. I know I have called the police whenever I’ve thought I somebody was being hurt – even when I lived in the city centre, round the corner from a nightclub, and they were just as likely to be drunk.

I remember one night when I lived in halls at university – long before all the mental health drama happened – something similar happened. I had a nightmare that I was being raped. I woke up screaming. I must have woken up half the building.

Ten minutes later a squad of police officers were outside combing the area for a non-existent assault victim.

Because, why, for crying out loud, would you not report that shit?

Most of the time I don’t think like this. Most of the time I incredibly guilty about how ridiculously annoying my neighbours must find me. It’s just that occasionally there are other times when I really feel that it’s a good job I’m living in such a safe area, and with someone who wouldn’t hurt a hair on my head, because if I were attacked and needed help again I know I’d be pretty well screwed. Which isn’t exactly doing wonders towards restoring my faith in humanity.

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5 thoughts on “Kitty Genovese Would Have Faired No Better In Suburban England

  1. I live in a house that was converted into 2 apartments. My former neighbor, a woman and her boyfriend who was NOT supposed to be living there (we have a stipulation in our lease about those not named on the lease staying longer than blah blah blah), would have crazy screaming matches at all hours of the day. I would feel nervous and uncomfortable in my own home when he would storm out of the house screaming that she was a bitch and worse, enough that I bought a light-blocking curtain so he couldn’t see into my living room and possibly start screaming at ME.
    When they started, I would have to pause any activity and just wait for it to end. Partly because they were so loud and there were a lot of things thrown at the very thin walls that we couldn’t hear the tv or each other when they were at it, and partly because I carefully listened to see if either of them would say “STOP” or “OUCH.”
    The final straw was when I heard her scream “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT” at about 2 in the morning. I emailed our landlords explaining that I was worried for her safety but didn’t want to call the police because I had no proof that either party was hurting the other. They kicked her out of the house for our complaint among other things (actually they told me I should have informed them earlier, but that’s neither here nor there), but apparently he was not informed of where she’s moving. Hopefully he still doesn’t know.

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  2. I’ve thought of this a lot and while I always hope that people will err on the side of caution, I also worry about how much worse it might make things. I know how context-dependent that is, though.

    I worry about ringing the police in India (and I did in South Africa and the Philippines too) when I hear a girl screaming because the police are ineffectual and corrupt and prejudiced and institutionally violent and we don’t have the necessary protections in place to ensure the safety of the girl and what if she refuses to press charges because all of these things are negotiated spaces. Our entitlements, our rights (and I think this is true across the world) are negotiated. So it isn’t about ringing the police for me, but about community action. It’s about going to see if the girl is all right, if her screams are of terror or a prelude to laughter. It’s about looking at how ‘safety’ is a complex space and trying to navigate that space to ensure that in ‘safety’ there is no disempowerment. That the safety extends to all of us in our communities, in our spaces, in the myriad ways in which we construct it.

    That is what terrifies me about the spaces I’m in: that this doesn’t happen nearly as much as it ought to. That nobody will stop and help when someone so obviously needs it, that nobody will step in, that nobody will speak up and call something out, that people will look you in the eye as something horrendous happens and look at you as though it’s nothing. (I had a long list of things that have happened recently where nobody has stopped or spoken up to help, but a lot of that was triggering me & would’ve likely done so for more people so I cut that out). It scares me that people allow themselves to just be spectators as injustice and violations and violence is meted out by the fistful.

    I don’t know how to address this, to discuss our public spaces and the violence we see everyday. I don’t know how to shift the narrative, but I can’t not try to; I guess.

    Sorry about the ramble. 😦

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    • That’s okay. It’s an interesting,not particularly rambling ramble 🙂

      I suppose the reason I would have expected my neighbours to call the police is that they’re middle aged, middle class, white people living in an English suburb. So of all the groups of people in the world probably the most likely to have faith in the virtue of our police force despite any and all evidence to the contrary.

      Also, there are so many people, and particularly people their age, here who complain that there is no community anymore because it’s not safe to go and help somebody out because you’re likely to get stabbed. That isn’t borne out by the crime statistics and I think the people who didn’t like the cultural changes they saw around around them and so retreated from their communities had as much to do with how isolated they feel as anything. But I can excuse people not going to help – not just talking about me now, just generally where help is needed – if they genuinely think they’re going to get seriously hurt themselves. I can’t excuse their not doing anything at all and just carrying on as though they hadn’t seen/heard anything.

      That was the reason I rang the emergency services when I lived in the old flat. I didn’t think there was any help I could offer to a large group of aggressively drunk people at 3am in my pajamas; especially when I struggled with going outside at 3pm to buy milk. So I rang the emergency services because that’s what they’re meant to be there for. I never thought it through so far as to whether that’s what the people outside would have wanted, or whether they’d have wanted to press charges. I just wanted to make sure they were safe right then and there. Now it feels like something that I should factor in if it comes up in the future but I’m not sure how best to go about it.

      Before the mental health stuff it was easier, I did used to just go and intervene myself. But then I used to think having spent a decade learning how to fight made me safer. Now I know different.

      I do think though that a lot of people perceive that helping carries a greater risk to themselves than it actually does. And I’m not sure whether they don’t realise or don’t care that by tolerating things instead they help to make everything worse.

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  3. I just realised my comment might have made you feel worse. For what it’s worth, these people actually sounded crazy. Like high on ice crazy. In your case people probably realise what’s going on. Night terrors are more common than you realise, in people who have no trauma or PTSD. I have a friend with no such history who wakes her partner, children and neighbours with blood curdling, horror movie screams. I have another friend who wakes her kids and neighbours my opening windows and yelling nonsense out of them in her sleep. Once or twice whilst naked. It doesn’t explain why no one called police the first time you woke them. But they probably don’t think you’re crazy, so that’s nice 🙂

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  4. I live in suburban Australia. We had neighbours over the road for a while who would have SCREAMING domestics. They sounded equally crazy and it was mostly yelling as opposed to screams of terror. Neither of them were at risk of harm but I really felt for their elderly next door neighbour. One night, I woke at 2am to their usual nonsense, however this time there was a rather large bang and the male of the two suddenly legged it up the road. I honestly thought he had killed her. We were right about to call the police, after we checked all the doors were locked, when they showed up anyway…probably because elderly neighbour had had enough BEFORE the big bang. The very next day the crazy couple were out gardening like nothing had happened. Eventually the elderly neighbour got sick of it and called the crime hotline every day for weeks until they were busted for drugs and illegal pets and booted from their community housing.

    I did worry, however, that if someday someone was genuinely attacked it would just sound like the stupid neighbours and go unnoticed. I’m so glad they’re gone now.

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