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Last night I was at an event and I saw something I didn’t like. I was at a concert set up in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. I know the woman who runs the ticketing so I get to go to the concert for free in exchange for scanning tickets. I get paid too, but that’s not why I go.

Content Warning: male violence against women

So I was stationed outside the (very poorly sign-posted) VIP area. My job was to give people wrist bands when they showed me their ticket and then make sure that only people with wristbands went into the VIP section. I had a security guard with me keeping an eye on things.

illy publicity shot

Illy, performed at The Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne 18 November 2017, and was not involved in the incident in any way. Image taken from Illy’s publicity materials.

It was between sets, Thundamentals had just finished and the headliner, Illy,  was due to start in about 20 minutes when I saw it.

A man and a woman, in the VIP area, standing near the fence. They were clearly having a fight, the woman was crying. Then the man grabbed her by the back of her neck and put his head close to hers.

It had now gone from watching a couple have a tiff to witnessing an assault. The security guard next to me, a 53-year-old woman of Macedonian descent (I know both of these things because she told me), saw these two and stiffened but made no move to approach them.

I watched as the man spoke in her ear for several minutes. He released his hold on her neck. She moved to stand a foot or so away from him, arms folded. He held her upper arm and continued to speak to her.

I was too far away to hear what was being said but it was clear he was belittling her. He then hugged her. The first time he tried to embrace her, she flinched away, he went in again and she let him, but made no move to hug him back. The security guard seemed to relax, we both thought that maybe the situation was deescalating.

About five minutes later the woman pushed him away. I heard him say something along the lines of ‘you may as well just go home then, you stupid cunt.’ She left the VIP area, and I watched her walk to the exit. I kept an eye out for her for the next half an hour, till  the end of my shift, and she didn’t come back.

‘It’s better that they should be separated,’ the security guard said to me.

‘I was about to go over there myself,’ I said.

‘Yes, but you never know when it will go up.’

I had chosen my own comfort and safety while watching another woman, a woman who was clearly accustomed to being treated terribly, being assaulted.

Later another woman, a punter, came up and asked the security guard whether we’d seen it and why we hadn’t intervened. The security guard gave her the same explanation that she’d given me; that we don’t want to escalate into something more dangerous for her and for us.

But that seemed wrong to me. How can I feel comfortable standing by as a man assaulted a woman, threatened her, bullied her, destroyed her self-worth and reinforced his insidious hold over her? How can I justify that my inaction with the platitude that if I intervene it might be worse? She thinks she’s alone; that people around her didn’t care, or worse, that they thought she deserved it.

The whole thing made me feel dirty. I was complicit in the perpetuation of male violence against women by my inaction.

That old saying that the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you condone has been ringing in my ears today. I want something in my tool box for the next time this happens, because I know it will happen again.