Witnessing Domestic Violence in Colombia

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, or have read through a couple of my posts, you’ll know that I don’t really write anything negative about Colombia. There isn’t a lot to complain about.

But a couple of weeks ago I had a very troubling experience and I haven’t been able to get my mind off of it since.

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On New Year’s Day, I’m cleaning up around my apartment. A strange noise breaks up the silence of the afternoon. At first, I shrug it off.

Then I hear it again. It’s louder. I walk out on my balcony, trying to identify the sound and its location. Then I realize it’s a woman screaming.

The sound can be heard loudest from my bathroom. My shower’s window is set just inches from my neighbors’ window. The screams coming from inside the apartment are echoing into mine.

They aren’t just any kind of screams. They’re blood curdling. A kind I’ve never heard before. The screams of someone who fears for her life.

I quickly run to my apartment’s phone and call my doorman. I describe what I’m hearing, and he says he’ll be right up.

I can hear more sounds now. A baby is crying. Someone is being hit.

The elevator door opens and the doorman comes out. We listen outside of the apartment as the sounds continue. He rings the doorbell – no answer.

I insist we call the police. He agrees. We call from my house phone. He says there is a woman screaming and a baby crying.

I call my boyfriend and tell him what’s happening. He’s on his way.

The police motorcycle pulls up a few minutes later, lights flashing. I hold my breath outside of my peep hole as the elevator door opens again. They walk out, guns drawn, and burst into the apartment.

Another pair of police show up and enter. Everything goes quiet. There is no more screaming, or hitting, or crying.

My boyfriend arrives. We wait.

The police leave. The man stays.

I call my doorman and ask him what the police said. He reports that when they arrived, she told them to leave. That it was a problem between them and didn’t concern the police.

But what about the hitting? Would nothing happen to him – not even a night in jail?

I pack up a few things and head over to my boyfriend’s house. I don’t feel safe sleeping in an apartment next to a wife beater. I ask my doorman to call me when they move out – they’re temporary guests.

I come back to my apartment a few days later. The couple and their baby had packed up the same day and left. Crisis is over.

But I can’t help but wonder: Is this the first time they’ve had to leave some place? Was she punished further in a different apartment out of earshot of others like me? Will he eventually kill her? What about the baby? 

Did I do the right thing?

  • Dwayne Golden Jr
    January 16, 2013

    Yes you did the right thing! Anything else could have got you hurt for someone who “didn’t want help”. What you did stopped him from hitting her.

  • Adam Pervez
    January 16, 2013

    Complicado. I guess you can’t help those who don’t want to be helped. If she told the police to go away, she doesn’t want to be helped. Then again, if there is no support for her to do the right thing and get out of the situation, then it’s a no-win situation. Again, complicado. And sad.

  • Andrew Scott
    January 16, 2013

    Yes, absolutely no question, you did the right thing. I have witnessed / heard many instances of physical violence towards women. In most cases I have intervened & I have always regretted the moments when I did not.

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    January 16, 2013

    True – at least I helped her temporarily.

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    January 16, 2013

    I’m not sure if there is support for women being abused in Colombia, but there should be.

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    January 16, 2013

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Andrew.

  • Vanessa S
    January 16, 2013

    Yes you definitely did the right thing. It’s less likely she will be ‘punished further’ like you mentioned because the police were called and she told them to leave. If she didn’t tell the police to leave… it’s likely she would have been punished further afterwards. This is part of the reason people in abusive relationships ‘protect’ their offenders, and get dragged into a never-ending cycle. It’s such a complicated issue/situation, and it can be so easy for people to say ‘why don’t they just leave the relationship?’ but it’s a lot more complex than this. At the end of the day you did the right thing, and all we can do is hope that the woman finds the strength and courage to seek help, and that help is readily available to her when she is ready for it.

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    January 17, 2013

    Agreed. I hope that she does leave.

  • David Lee
    January 17, 2013

    Glad you wrote about this to share more of the story. It’s really sad that she simply told the police to leave, but it’s at least a little reassuring to hear they responded in a timely manner, and forcibly entered the apartment.

    I’m also thankful you’re OK, and that they were only staying there temporarily.

    On an unrelated note, I remember an expat I met here in Colombia knocked on his neighbor’s door one time in the middle of the night, to see if the guy could do something about his barking dogs. The Colombian answered with a gun in his hand, as if to say “make me.”

    Also, this is hardly a problem unique to Colombia. Domestic violence exists everywhere, though it certainly seems more prevalent in Latin America.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    January 17, 2013

    I think you did the right thing. The woman was obviously too scared to say anything to the police, but maybe it showed her husband that other people will react if he beats her again. If everybody did that he may even change his behaviour.

  • frugal expat
    January 19, 2013

    This is really very disturbing indeed. As much as you wanted to help, sometimes the victim him/herself doesn’t want to be helped.
    I hope the baby and the woman were fine.

  • disqus_3qyHWo5I6W
    January 20, 2013

    Actually in colombia you should not interfere next time.you could find yourself in danger if they find out who called. colombia is a dangerous place and they will not think twice before shooting someone or robbing them.whatever you see just keep your lips sealed for your own safety. I am colombian, I have gone through similar incident myself. Honestly I have nothing good to say about colombian men they are “machista” and women have no self respect for themselves.They are brought up into that culture. That is one reason why although I am separated from my daughter right now. I live in USA. I choose not to live in colombia. It is a dangerous place, the law does not protect women. Trust me I’ve been there. I pretty much admire you for finding happiness there because I sure did not. It is very common for this type of thing to happen. A lot of colombian men are usually drunk or on coke or something so they always usually end up hitting their girlfriend or spouse. oh and specially on new years or christmas a lot of women end up getting hit. I am colombian sad to say have nothing good to say about the country or people.Maybe because I have seen it from a colombian’s point of view not from expat living there.Good luck though on your adventure.

  • Markus Sims
    January 20, 2013

    3 sides to every story. you assume she was the innocent victim, but the story may be way more complicated than it appears. been there, done that. however, if your assumptions were correct, you did the morally correct thing, although this could bring heat your way in locombia next time. you tap into the wrong crowd in paisaland, it could warrant a quick exit from the country.

  • Ginat1
    January 24, 2013

    It happens here too. And it is dangerous here in the US too. You can not be safe at at theather or children are not safe at schools. In Colombia this is rare. And yes it is not less dangerous than walking the strees in downtown Washington DC.

  • AJ Aerni
    January 24, 2013

    You definitely did the right thing. Better safe than sorry. I stopped a man from hitting his girlfriend here in Chiang Mai, Thailand a couple weeks ago. I still can’t understand why this sort of thing continues to happen… all over the world. It needs to stop. Be well. And namaste.

  • GGW Colombia
    April 26, 2013

    I think that “wife beating” as you call it is more common than you think in South America, pretty much in every relationship from both sides. My point of view is that it isn’t any of your business really, if you think someone is going to get seriously hurt or the noise is disturbing you then by all means call the police. It’s your obligation as a compassionate human being

  • Robert Acquet
    July 15, 2013

    I thought this article may interest you.

    Why domestic violence is never a private issue


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