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Don't Be Silent DC has been inactive since March 2008 and has not been accepting entries since. If you are in the DC area and have a harassment story to share, please go to HollaBack DC. If you are outside the DC area and want to submit your story, go to Stop Street Harassment. Thank you.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Assault at Union Station

An anonymous contributor sent this story to my inbox:

I live in Baltimore. I take the train from Penn Station in Baltimore to Washington only once a week (thank god). I used to take the train every day, but since I freelance now I don't have to be at [workplace omitted] every day. And yes, I've also been groped on the train and bullied in other ways, just like almost every other woman I know. Thank you for your blog and for publicizing this stuff. My god, it seems like I've been fighting this all my life and it just never gets better. But now, at age 50, I finally feel more confident and able to fight back (safely, of course -- I don't want to get killed, though a few friends have already told me I was an idiot for confronting the guy on the platform).

I was -- uh, I believe the legal term is assaulted -- Thursday morning on the platform at Union Station.

It was a military guy in Army fatigues. White guy, light brown, blondish hair, not crewcut, normal cut, kind of stocky build. I've seen him get on before, I believe at your stop, but I'm not sure. Either BWI or Odenton, I think, or maybe Halethorpe; I don't know. I don't remember. Anyway, since there aren't that many of them, as you know, one tends to notice them. I suppose they go to the Pentagon.

I had gotten off my car, way at the back of the pack, and started walking forward. I had passed him, way on the other side of the platform -- in other words, nowhere near each other -- way at the back. You know how most people don't like walking on the yellow tread-strip near the edge, so that tends to be the fast lane, so to speak. As I was weaving my way forward, I ended up on the yellow tread, where I don't mind walking (it's actually easier on my foot).

As I'm walking along, suddenly, just when a pillar is to the left of me and the edge of the platform on the right, I feel a body slam. And I do mean body slam. This wasn't a bump. It was a shove. It rocked my body out toward the edge -- thank god there was a train there and thank god I hadn't been standing still -- since I was moving forward, the force of his slam was less than if I had been stationary, in which case I believe he would've knocked me over.

There was no chance this was 1) an accident or 2) he didn't feel it. When it happened, I looked immediately to my left to see him pounding by and I said, "Excuse me!" He ignored me and kept walking. I said again, "Excuse me!" Again no response. I muttered, "You asshole."

He stopped dead: "What did you say?"

Uh-oh, I thought, now I've done it. I was scared shitless. Trying to defuse the situation, I said, "You just shoved me. When two people bump into each other, it's polite to say 'excuse me.' I said it; you didn't. And it was clearly your fault."

He comes over, puts his hand on my back -- in what I at first, for a millisecond, thought was a conciliatory gesture, as if he couldn't hear me and was trying to lean in to do so. He never apologized, never acknowledged what he had done, and -- get this -- started pushing me. I mean pushing. It wasn't a conciliatory gesture, he was actually pushing me as we walked.

So I immediately ended my own solicitous explanation to him and stopped and said, "Get your hands off me! Don't touch me!"

Of course everyone around us witnessed the whole thing and heard everything, but nobody stopped.

Then I just kept walking, not looking at him, figuring it was over and he would leave me alone. But he came back over to me (!!!!!!!), didn't touch me, but started complaining to me again -- honestly, I have absolutely no recollection of what he said, I just know his demeanor was threatening, and never did he acknowledge what he had done. So one last time, without looking at him, without breaking stride, I repeated what I had said before about his behavior. He said something else, and I said again, "Asshole."

He hissed in my ear: "That's the second time."

Without a glance, I said, "Third time, I believe," and just kept walking. I have no idea if he went off towards the Metro or stood there or followed me for a while or what. I was shaking, absolutely shaking. I knew we were surrounded by people, plus there were cops everywhere, so I mean what was he gonna do? Clock me?

He probably beat the shit out of somebody else later in the day. Or got into trouble at work, or took it out on someone.

But he clearly targeted me, since he came up from behind, and I repeat that it wasn't a bump, it was a shove. An absolute shove.

I'm going to tell the conductors when I get on the train on Thursday, and describe him to them. And I absolutely will not get off the train anymore until everyone else has gotten off. I will be the last person in the crowd. I don't want anyone coming up behind me ever again, especially not him, as I'm sure to see him on future trains.

If this guy gets on at your station, maybe you've seen him. The whole thing was totally bizarre and scary.

Contributor, scary as it was you stood your ground and stood up to this clown. I'm also glad that you're reporting this when you get the chance. I hope others and readers of DBS will be on the lookout for this punk.

What boggles my mind is that no one stopped to help the contributor. They took notice and went about their ways. You don't need to physically intervene to help---you can contact the nearest security/authority figure and have them intervene. Yelling "leave her alone!" would've drawn attention as well. This passive attitude and disregard in helping others bothers me.

Lastly, stay safe. I have issues too when it comes to not biting my tongue when dealing with asshole men. Yet if I feel the man's going to start threatening me with physical violence, I walk or run away and try to get help.

I hope this guy is caught. He shouldn't use his military status to brutalize women. Be on the lookout everyone.


sunchaser said...

It sounds like the people around may have succumbed to the Genovese syndrome (not that this makes their inaction any less the worse).

Explanations for it (from Wikipedia):
1) People may also fear "losing face" in front of the other bystanders, being superseded by a "superior" helper, or offering unwanted assistance

2) Bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency situation to see if others think that it is necessary to intervene. Since others are doing exactly the same, everyone concludes from the inaction of others that other people do not think that help is needed

To counter the bystander effect when you are the victim, a studied recommendation is to pick a specific person in the crowd to appeal to for help rather than appealing to the larger group generally. If you are the only person reacting to an emergency, point directly to a specific bystander and give them a specific task such as, "You. Call 911." These steps place all responsibility on a specific person instead of allowing it to diffuse. Furthermore, pluralistic ignorance is countered by the implication that all bystanders are indeed interested in helping, and social proof kicks in when one or more of the crowd steps in to assist.

lizzie said...

i am appalled that no one did anything to help the contributor. that's just not acceptable. i understand that there are reasons for this, as sunchaser was able to explain. but that doesn't justify anyone's indifference. we can't just stand around and do nothing. that just perpetuates the problem.

Mari said...

In a male/female confrontation people tend to believe it is a domestic squabble and stay out of it.
When there are other people around make it clear that the man is a stranger and it isn't an arguement between bf&gf. And yes, pointing to someone specific and giving them the responsiblity of taking action helps too.

sunchaser said...

It is awful, but what I really don't understand is why public awareness hasn't been raised about this apparently very common psychological behaviour pattern Because, theoretically, if people were aware of what they were doing (or not doing), they might act otherwise.

And it effects the response time in medical emergencies as well, because researchers found that the more people present while someone was having a stroke, the longer it took for someone to get help for that person.