Trigger Warning: This post contains some discussion of sexual harassment and assault. Please exercise self-care and skip this post if you need to.

The other night, The Man of Mans were walking downtown after a fun night out with friends. The January deep freeze was on in full force and from the moment I felt the arctic air on my face, I had only one goal – getting to the nearby parking garage and our car as fast as possible. I was quick-stepping along the sidewalk urging The MoMs to keep pace. We were a few blocks away from the parking garage, when I spotted a man and woman who seemed to be engaged in some major public display of affection.

As we got closer, the majority of my brain was still occupied with matters of Warmth. Car. Now! But as glanced at the couple out of the corner of my eye, I became concerned. I don’t want to go into too much detail about another person’s experience – that part of the story isn’t mine to reveal. But as we passed the couple I heard and saw something that made me question whether she wanted what was happening.

Maybe I should stop,’ I thought. Then, almost instantly I began doubting myself, ‘What if you’re wrong? What if you make a scene? What if she doesn’t want you butting your nose into her affairs? She didn’t ask for your help. She’s not screaming or anything. The MoMs hasn’t said anything – he clearly doesn’t think it’s weird. No one else on the street is doing anything. It’s really, really cold and maybe this is nothing. Maybe it’s just your imagination.’

I glanced back one more time. Then, I kept walking.

I second later, another pedestrian who was clearly even more susceptible to cold than I am,  scurried past us. He was moving quickly with determination but he did pause for a moment to talk to us. Gesturing towards the other couple he said  “So, um…something pretty weird’s happening back there, ” and took off.

“Yeah,” The MoMs whispered to me,  “I was thinking the same thing.”

They had seen it too! This wasn’t my imagination.  I made my way back to the couple. “Excuse me,” I said, addressing the woman, “Are you okay?” Again, I’ll spare the details but as it turned out things were not entirely okay. After a brief exchange, the woman assured us she would be fine, thanked us and hurried away.

The man stared at The MoMs and I momentarily. “Oh wow,” he said ruefully, “I guess that was really bad.” He trotted away. The MoMs offered me his hand and we quietly finished our cold nighttime walk and climbed into welcoming warmth of our car.

I wish this were a different story. I wish I’d thought to ask that woman if she wanted company when she turned to walk away. I wish I’d acted immediately when my gut first told me something was off.  But the truth is while I eventually did something, it was that other guy, the one who told us that “something weird” was happening back there, who deserves some major props.

Cliff of the Pervocracy once wrote this awesome blog post about how, when you spot weirdness, telling someone in the vicinity can be a great strategy. To quote Cliff:

Next time you see something that seems wrong, but “oh my gosh maybe not really maybe I shouldn’t say anything I don’t know,” you don’t have to go right to the cops or the boss or run into the situation with your fists up.  What you do have to do–this is a goddamn order–is tell someone about it.  Someone as confused and powerless as you are.  Just check in.  “This seemed off to me, does it seem off to you?”

Sometimes it isn’t even about how the other person reacts.  Sometimes it’s just about putting it into words.  You hear yourself describe the situation and you realize what you’re describing.

Sometimes it’s just about taking a step, even if it isn’t the perfectly right step, that makes you realize you are allowed to act on this; now that you’ve done something you can do more.

And sometimes they look back at you and say “yeah, that was fucked up. I was thinking the same thing but didn’t want to say anything.  You think we should go tell someone about it?”

And that, two people realizing they’re not the only one in the universe who has a problem with what’s happening, much more often than any spectacular act of lone-hero courage, is how evil gets dragged into the light.

I saw someone I thought might have been in trouble. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I failed to follow Cliff’s order. Fortunately, that fast-walkin’ dude was on the ball. Props to him because if I hadn’t said anything, I probably wouldn’t have stopped. It was only once I knew that someone else had what I had seen, that I was compelled to take action.

As for the man we interrupted? I was only once he saw his behaviour through the eyes of random strangers that he stopped to  reconsider his actions. Will our 90 second encounter influence what he does from now on? Who know?  It will definitely influence me.

Sometimes it’s easy to rationalize harassment or assault. If the act isn’t overtly violent, if there’s a pre-existing relationship, if everyone around you starts rationalizing it too. But it’s a lot harder to rationalize these things when someone calls it out. Someone spoke and I could no longer justify walking away. I spoke up and – at least in that moment – that dude could not justify his behaviour. The next time I see something and the red flags go up, I won’t search for an excuse to ignore my instincts. I will say something to someone and hope that it triggers a chain of change.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Annabelle says:

    I love this. Thank you for being brave enough to intervene at the risk of embarrassing yourself if everything was fine, and thank you for writing about it. You are superb!