Let’s talk violence against women. It’s a topic that could get some feeling a bit squirmish. Because the truth is that we all, at some point of our lives, have seen an act of violence against a woman that we either are familiar with or not. But the climax of that experience is whether you did anything to stop it.
If you did nothing or felt like there was nothing you could do, be not afraid, that’s normal. If there were ever a diseased definition for the word ‘normal’ then, by all accounts, not doing anything about it, is normal. It speaks to a wider problem of “Apathy”. The unnerving thing is that Apathy and Violence Against Women almost go hand in hand like a twin evil that society just can’t seem to figure out.
To show how apathy features prominently in violence against women, three cases will be touched on in this post. The “Unknown Chile Mudda”, Trinidadian media personality Marcia Henville, and Kitty Genovese. I’ll explore the cases in order from the most recent heading back. I will close this piece with a comparison of the three cases.
Sometime around afternoon on Saturday (2015-02-21), a Facebook photo went viral in the Guyana social media realm. The image which is now the featured image of this blog was posted by a concerned citizen, Carwyn Holland, who was in a vehicle moving along Mandela Avenue, Georgetown. The message attached to the photo was:
“Help prevent a murder! A green Ice Taxi HC 2408 Driver attempted to stab his child mother and she jumped out his car on Mandela Avenue. Driver picked her up and drove away. Call 911 somebody, they not answering. I could not turn around fast enough in traffic to give chase so he got away with her. Please help anybody who knows this fella and this young lady. She was bleeding but shouted he tried to stab her before he dragged her back into his car.“
A few hours after the photo went viral, an update was given that ranks of the East La Penitence Police Station went in search of the vehicle and found the abuser and his victim. I stand to be corrected but I think I saw that he was to be charged.
I move to the second case. The story of Marcia Henville.
Marcia met her demise not too far from where I stay in Trinidad. I remember sitting in my dorm room and seeing on Facebook that there was a fire in St. Augustine. I took it for nothing but a house fire. The news first spread on social media that she perished in the blaze. Strangely I felt it affect me because what I assumed was a small incident was actually not. But it was a particular report, I can’t remember which, that put things into perspective for me. That report said that days before Marcia was expected to finalise her divorce, her body is being prepped for her autopsy.
Marcia’s charred remains were found in her upscale St. Augustine home. Her husband, Sheldon Henville, who was involved in the incident, reportedly suffered first degree burns, but he lived. Her two children, 20 years and 16 years, were at home but managed to escape without injuries. Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday first asked the question: WAS MARCIA MURDERED?
The results of the autopsy was made known to the T&T Guardian. The headline told the whole story: Henville stabbed, beaten, throat slit.
TT Guardian (2015-01-27): “An autopsy yesterday showed that before being set ablaze, Henville, as she lay face down on her bed, was stabbed repeatedly about the face and neck, violently struck in the back of the head and her throat was slit.”
This was a woman who was identified for her journalism by the characteristic trait “Fearless“. I guess she doesn’t fit the mould of low self esteem that we attach to women who are victims of violence, so what was different in Marcia’s case?
I move to the final case. The story of Kitty Genovese.
New York Post: “At 3:15 on the morning of March 13, 1964, a 28-year-old bar manager named Kitty Genovese drove her red Fiat into the parking lot of the LIRR station by her Kew Gardens home.”
Social Psychologists, students of Social Psychology and even the other behavioural sciences would know the story of Kitty Genovese. The chilling tale of a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death in the presence of 38 witnesses.
Kitty was reportedly some 100 paces away from her doorstep at about 3 in the morning when a gentleman, Winston Moseley, crept up behind her overpowering her as he slammed her to the ground and repeatedly stabbed her. Moseley, to the knowledge of the rest of the world, had absolutely no relations to Kitty.
Kitty was heard screaming “Oh God! I’ve been stabbed!”
NEW YORK POST: Across the street, a man named Robert Mozer heard Genovese from his apartment. Looking out his seventh-floor window, he saw a man and a woman, sensed an altercation — he couldn’t see exactly what was happening — and yelled out his window, “Leave that girl alone!”
Moseley ran away but after no one came to Kitty’s rescue even though she was stabbed, he returned to stab her several more times and then raped her. The story eventually went global following an interview with one of the neighbours, Karl Ross, who was asked why he did nothing to help, which he responded: “I didn’t want to get involved!”
Thus the “Bystander Effect” or “Bystander Apathy” in Social Psychology was born. This effect is largely characterised by a “Diffusion of Responsibility” which boils down to saying that the more persons who witness the event, the more likely there is to be zero reaction because everyone is waiting to see if the other person will do something about it.
This social psychological phenomenon was evident in what happened to both Kitty and Marcia. It could possibly be why both those incidents ended in the worst case scenario- Death. But the more alarming thing is the “Diffusion of Responsibility”.
In the cases of Kitty and Marcia, both of these women lived in neighbourhoods where there was relatively less crime. Their neighbours were upscale residents who had a strong sense of “trust” among themselves. One article from the New York Post which sought to discredit that Kitty’s neighbours did nothing stated that the people of Kew Gardens didn’t even bother to lock their doors. Presumably because of the low crime variable.
Marcia lived in similar circumstances and like the people of Kew Gardens, Marcia’s neighbours received their fair share of fingering in her murder for their unwillingness to act. Errol Fabien, who was close to Marcia, was reported in the Trinidad Express Newspaper saying:
When she hear a cry she gone. That was Marcia. That is why I vex because Marcia Henville called for help. Marcia screamed… in that fancy Fidelis place where she was living nobody does go. When they hear her bawling out for help, no one went… People in Baige Street, which is half mile away, them hear and they called St Joseph Police Station. If it was anybody else in Fidelis Heights getting that treatment, Marcia would have been in there at the front door. She would have said: “Hello, what is going on inside there!” Nobody went to help Marcia.
The man was on point. Domestic violence and violence against women at that degree doesn’t happen once. It’s a series of events where the abuser builds up more and more courage to further his acts. He feels empowered and as he is allowed to do what he is doing, day by day, he will push it a bit further. In Marcia’s case, her abuser pushed it to the limit. The sad thing is that it appeared as though the only person who had the courage to save Marcia Henville from her violent death was Marcia herself.
If that wasn’t bad enough and we weren’t convinced that the Diffusion of Responsibility in Marcia’s neighbourhood lead to her demise, then the next action of her neighbours would definitely clear all doubt that we may have.
In a startling revelation, feeling offended by the statements made at her funeral, Marcia’s neighbours under the umbrella “Bates Trace Management”, responded to reports in the media that they did nothing to help her.
According to the statement from Marcia’s neighbours:
“… under these terrible circumstances, we felt it especially important to dispel the misinformation that has been circulated, and publicly respond to the comments that have called into question the integrity of our community… When screams were first heard, residents alerted the authorities and placed further calls to emergency services when the unit went ablaze. Residents further extended themselves, arriving at the unit to offer assistance. Unfortunately, their efforts were not able to avert the tragedy. Marcia’s loss is deeply felt by all of us and we would like to take this opportunity to offer her family and friends our sincerest condolences.”
They added, “Out of respect for them and the residents of our close-knit community, we want to make every effort to ensure that the facts are accurately communicated, particularly as there is potential to deeply wound those who have already suffered in the aftermath of this tragedy.”
I find it disheartening that Marcia’s neighbours seemed to be too concerned with the image of their upscale community, almost showing self-righteousness in their apathy. This is exactly what Marcia’s friend spoke about at the funeral. But one flaw in the statement, the residents spoke about their response to the fire but they didn’t speak to whether there was a response to Marcia’s screams while she was being murdered or even whether there were screams before. I don’t doubt that they heard it before. Even in their reports they said that they heard a loud argument coming from the Henville residence. The first? I doubt it! Maybe, like Karl Ross in the case of Kitty Genovese, Marcia’s neighbours just didn’t want to get involved.
I don’t know the name of the woman who is featured in the main image of this blog but all I know is that she needs help. Help that goes far beyond the abuser being charged. This woman and her abuser share one common thing that may force them to be in constant contact with each other- a child. She’s not going anywhere. If he is charged and he jailed, he will come out. He will be upset. So maybe the penal system doesn’t do as much for helping the situation as we might think. Maybe our Law Enforcement and Judicial System aren’t as equipped as we may think.
Heaven forbids that like Marcia and Kitty, the “unknown chile mudda” is to arrive at her limit in the worst case scenario. There is time for her to be helped. Act now.
I usually close my blogs saying: “But in this and more, I could be wrong.” This time, I know that I am damn right. Act now.