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October 2, 2007
Is Abuse Ever an Ethical Dilemma?
Strange situations seem to follow me wherever I go. Generally when the moment finds me I will act on impulse, I will make a decisive choice. I am not the one who will stand by in a crowd.
Over the past few weeks however, I have found myself a participant in a situation that makes me very uncomfortable and I don't quite know what should be done. I've made a decision on how to act, but I don't necessarily feel good about it.
My company's office in Spain has arranged for me to share an apartment temporarily with a couple of new hires who needed time themselves to discover the city of Logroņo and select their own permanent places to live. The apartment is situated in a good neighborhood on the South side of the city, not far from the football stadium.
It is very large by Spanish or even American standards. There are four bedrooms, a giant combination living room dining room, two full bathrooms, a large galley kitchen, a terrace and a balcony. It is well lit and it even came partially furnished.
The apartment is privately owned by a young couple. They agreed to lease it to our company for three months with the condition that they could try and sell it in the meantime. On occasion, we have to put up with the occasional request to have them walk somebody through the place while we are at work. It's not so bad, at least that encourages us to keep the place clean.
The first few nights that I was in the apartment I was focused on getting unpacked and settled in my new place. I was early to bed and early to rise; I was exhausted from weeks of travel and months of working too much. The festival of San Mateo may have well been about celebrating Logroņo's tradition of detonating surplus munitions while swinging cats over their heads for I would have slept through it all.
About the second week that I was in town I noticed that something strange was going on in the apartment next door: right around one in the morning, like clockwork, the angry voices of a young couple would rise out still of the night, breaking the silence of the building with aggressive top-of-the-lungs rapid fire Spanish. Then, on occasion, there would be dull thuds, the woman would go from hurling aggressive tones to defensive pleading. He would continue to yell and slam, hit and bang, until maybe after thirty or forty minutes after it began it would suddenly cease and once again you would be left with the quiet murmur from someone's television, a quiet cough, or the flushing of a toilet. The usual light night apartment sounds.
To be honest, the first few times I heard the eruption from next door I really couldn't quite be sure what I was listening to. At that time of night and with my poor level of Spanish, how was I to know what was really going on? Still, after some time a clearer picture was developing in my mind. I could hear more and more as to what was being said and I could clearly make out the sounds of blows and the female cries in response to them.
In the third week of my stay here in Logroņo, this nightly episode was starting to weigh heavily on my thoughts. I began to dread the eventuality of their beginning. I started to wear headphones. I would read from the opposite side of the apartment. I started to fantasize that it was just a violent movie they would watch next door, four or five times a week.
And what does Luis, my roommate think? Luis had heard them once or twice, but resigned himself to going to bed earlier. A reed in the wind.
This same week, I happened to meet one my neighbors. She is in her mid twenties, speaks English, and lives on the same floor and in the same apartment—floor plan and all—just one building over from mine. After trading Internet contact information and exchanging a few messages she remarked that she and I must share the same set of crazy neighbors. I had to know more and asked if she wouldn't mind going out some weekend for coffee in order to talk about it.
Over a café cortado she told me how the situation living between us is a very sad situation indeed. It turned out that the man is very young, in twenties, and that his parents are gone or deceased and that his brothers have moved away leaving him alone. All this happened some time again and ever since he has had problems with drugs, with the law, but the apartment is his and he has stayed.
She went on to tell me that he has been beating up on his girlfriend more or less for a year. It also turns out the she shares a bedroom wall with him and can usually hear their every word, and everything that goes on: including the sex he sometimes forces on her. "Open your legs!" is something my neighbor told me she hears often enough. The greatest surprise came when I asked what she or her family, whom she lives with, had done about this situation.
She told me that her father had confronted him a few times but shortly after one of the confrontations his car had been vandalized and that had made him reluctant to ever try and change the situation directly ever again. She told me that the police knew who this boy was and what was going on in there. If I understood her correctly I believe that she was insinuating that eventually things would change without any involvement from anybody. I am not sure if I am ready to believe this.
I asked her if I should do anything about it. I offered that I couldn't contact the police or have my company do so on behalf of me. Without any hesitation she told me not to. She asked me, "please don't," in fact. To boot, she followed it up with an e-mail later reiterating the fact that I shouldn't do anything but let the situation alone. Suffice to say, this has not sit easily with me.
If I were in my own country, I would take care of this US style: guns-a-blazing cowboy justice. I would wait for him to start slapping her around and call the police. If she wouldn't press charges against him than at least I could get him on a noise ordinance and likely drug charges. Do you see the plan? Move in and invade without any consideration for your neighbors or the clean up.
However here in Spain I don't know the laws, I don't know the language, and I don't know how the Spanish would handle this situation. After all, I had one set of neighbors--and likely the rest of the surrounding apartments--that were just happy to leave the situation to fester on its own. Sure they have a socialist president, but where are the socialists in my apartment building?
I needed more opinions and so I decided to ask some people at the office what they would do if they were in this situation. Like anywhere, the answers I got were very mixed. To me, a surprising number of people suggested doing nothing. Why should I go against my neighbors wishes? Clearly the couple next door were making their own choices: he to be a fuck up, her for staying, and for both to be narcotics users.
However, I talked to the department manager and he was far more distressed. His solution was to take a far more cautious approach and to talk to the police and ask them if they in fact were monitoring the situation. He told me if it was him he would have absolutely called the police and that would be that. In the meantime we are looking for another apartment.
Caution is the approach I am taking for now. I want the best for all parties involved and for now my tact is to first explore my options and gently work on changing the opinion of my neighbor to do something about it. At the very least, eventually I will move away and my flat will be sold to a new owner who may not be so passive.
What do you think? What would you do if you were in the same situation? Is there ever a situation where abuse should go unreported?
Posted by jordanh at October 2, 2007 7:54 AM |
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