What on Earth to do?
I like to think of myself as someone who will rush to stop bad things happening when I see or hear them. I will challenge people for making remarks that are at least overtly homophobic or sexist, for instance. I tend to think of myself as the sort of person to check if people are ok if they’re in the middle of a street and don’t look it. Just occasionally I’ll even cross a road in the process. But a few recent events have been worrying me. [Trigger warning: Domestic Violence]
I’m writing this whilst sat on a train. A few minutes a go, someone in the next group of seats described something as being gay. You know, like gay is some kind of derogatory term now. It wasn’t said to me or about me, but it was said loud enough for nearby folks to hear. Should I have intervened? I’d have done so if it was someone addressing me, but those guys are drinking and there’s five of them. Not so brave right now…
What actually causes me to be writing this post is an incident on my way home from Church two weeks ago. It was late at night, something like 11pm, and we were passing along a street when a woman appeared on the pavement ahead of us wearing a dressing gown and a carrying a baby. She might even have been barefoot. She was clearly hysterical, and she clearly shouted words to the effect of “I can’t stay in this house, I need to call the police, get him out of here”. A second female briefly appeared at the door, and begged the enraged woman to come back into the house. I reached for my phone. If nothing else, this was a potential breach of the peace – the police wouldn’t charge me with a nuisance call. I might not even have been visible or audible to the man in the house or either woman. But I paused. I hit the 9 key on my phone 3 times. And I paused some more.
I honestly have no idea, looking back, why I thought this was a bad idea. The friend stood next to me is capable of defending us both, despite his hobble and use of a stick that night (we joked about him “doing a yoda trick” as we walked on). But its played on my mind ever since. What would I have felt if a murder had been reported on the same street that night? Or a violent assault? What if no crime was reported in the papers because the victim was cowed in fear that might have been broken by my actually hitting the last button to call the police.
I guess I was worried about intervening in something that wasn’t mine to intervene in. I guess I was worried about looking like a fool, knowing full well the police who showed might well come with an dismissive attitude, fully prepared to believe that a hysterical woman is exactly that – the old “calm down dear, nothing is going to happen” attitude. Which is bollocks, and I know it. But in that endless split second, it still affected me enough to stop me in my tracks. A good Samaritan, I really wasn’t. And I’m quite appalled by this.
Since then, I’ve noticed a lot more, but significantly smaller, moments of panic over the possibility I could, maybe even should, have stopped and asked someone if they needed help – maybe even just intervened straight away without questions. Hindsight is a marvellous source of vigilance. Maybe next time I’ll remember. Next time, I guess I better make that call…