When Do We Choose to Interfere?

If your next-door neighbors were blasting music at 4 a.m., would you say something? Probably. If they were throwing a rager and people were peeing on your lawn? Definitely.

But what if you were hearing a violent domestic dispute? Not sure? You’re not alone.

The South African group People Opposing Women Abuse put together this brilliant PSA (above), which contrasted a neighborhood’s reaction to a loud drummer and its reaction to a loud (and ostensibly violent) married couple.

According to the Guardian, even the folks who did the experiment were shocked:

We weren’t sure what was going to happen. We were astonished. People complained about the drums within minutes. We played the sound of domestic violence three times and there was nothing.

It’s a horrendous sound—we really took it over the top. We were hiding in the house and thought somebody would come with a gun, but they just looked away. It was a real eye-opener. I think nobody really believes that someone dies in a domestic argument.

Actively interfering in sexual harassment and domestic abuse seems to be an odd blind spot in our society. As Gwen puts it over at Sociological Images,

We put violence between partners into a different, less serious category than, say, a fist fight between strangers at a bar, an unwillingness to intervene in what many think of as a private family matter, and fear about our own safety if we get involved or call authorities.

And Maya from Feministing admits to her own lack of action:

I once sat in a subway station in Manhattan late at night and watched a man try to get a sobbing, drunk woman to leave with him. I hesitated, not sure what to do. A few minutes later the police arrived; someone had acted, but it wasn’t me. Just last week, I saw a man aggressively slap a woman’s butt as she walked past in my neighborhood. I looked the other way, and she didn’t say anything either. I ignore sexual harassment—directed at me or others—pretty much every day.

So readers, what’s your take? Would you have interfered? (Or are you just telling yourself that to make yourself feel better?)

Let us know.


About Lu Fong

Lu Fong was a staff writer and blog editor for the Good Men Project in its formative years. As the requisite woman on staff, her hobbies included cleaning, cooking, knitting, fainting, and childbearing. Follow her on Twitter @lufong.


  1. One thing people in general should understand, is that police receive special training on intervening when it comes to domestic violence because they are the most dangerous call police departments get. Not only is stepping in potentially dangerous to the person who chooses to intervene, it could also be dangerous for the victim. Abusers blame and punish the victim when she seeks help or when it’s perceived by the abuser that she is ‘over-reacting’ to his abuse – classic minimization. The beating she is getting at the time may not compare to the one that comes later.

    This isn’t to say we should never intervene, nor am I saying that our culture isn’t apathetic when it comes to domestic abuse, but intervening should be done without being confrontational during a dangerous episode. Creating a diversion is a great technique while calling the police, and sticking around to be a witness helps evidence-based prosecution so the victim doesn’t have to appear to the abuser as the one who is ‘getting him in trouble.’ He’ll likely blame her either way, but it always helps to have others come forward.

    Marianne Ingrid Moner
    Domestic Violence Specialist

  2. I don’t know. Why don’t you interfere?


    Perhaps because to you, this kind of stuff doesn’t exist.
    In any case, unless it escalates to hits, I stay out of it.
    Why? Would you like to lose your job, possibly your family due to a shouting/shoving match?

    For the minor stuff we need minor interventions. Right now the reason alot of people don’t report is that if you report it the police and /or child protective services treat it so seriously that its like detonating a nuclear bomb in your relationship.

    So yeah, count on me to call the cops if there’s blows or other obvious violence. Otherwise count on me to stay out of it. I make no apologies.

  3. I have concerns about this study. Please bear with me: It reminds me of one done with pet dogs, testing their responses to their owner’s cries for help. The dogs did not respond when the owner pretended to be in trouble.

    The thing is, dogs can tell when you’re playing. It doesn’t matter how good an actor you are, it’s still pretend and a dog will know. They will know on an instinctive level.

    So, this study played the sounds of a domestic dispute. Was it a recording of a genuine fight? Was the sound recording made at all frequencies, and played at all frequencies, or only the ones that humans can normally here? If it was canned, on some level a human will recognize that the sound is coming from speakers and not from real events. If it was acted out, then on some animal, instinctive level, could the neighbors have understood that maybe this threat was not real?

  4. I have, and will, continue to interfere. I have stopped on the road in strange neighbors, in strange cities, because I thought someone was being harassed or in danger. I have banged on doors, walls, and ceilings, I have honked horns, and sometimes all it takes is for you to stare. I will pull out my phone and take pictures, or pretend (or for real) call 911. I was a victim of bullies in the past, and I will do what I can to prevent others from being so.

  5. Cookie Monster says:

    I promise I will from now on.

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