“Should I have stopped this?”

I was on the Circulator coming home from work yesterday, and I noticed an older man (at least 50 or 60) sitting across from a young girl (maybe 19 or 20?) in the back of the bus. The man was pretty unkempt, didn’t look like he’d had a shower recently, and was carrying a few dirty bags, and my first impression was that he was probably homeless. I was sort of sketched out, since they didn’t look like they knew each other and she was laughing that uncomfortable laugh that you laugh when a creepy man is talking to you and you don’t want him to. I didn’t say anything, because it wasn’t my business, but then I started overhearing the following clips of conversation (from the man): “I want to lick your toes”… “I love massages…” “Pleasure is central to my life…” and then, “You made my day, I’m going to be thinking about you all day, and all night. All night long!”

I was officially creeped out/disgusted/scared by this point, and was trying to figure out how to save this girl (ask her to come sit with me? go over and ask if she was okay?) when I heard him ask her how late he could call. “Before 10 is good,” I heard her say. From my perspective, that made it harder for me to get involved- should I have interfered anyway? I was sure I hadn’t heard wrong, but maybe she had willingly given him her number and was looking for a friend. Who am I to judge? Or hey, maybe she gave a fake number to try to get him to shut up. But then, he said that he was getting off at the next stop (my stop, O & Wisconsin) and asked whether he could give her a goodbye kiss. I didn’t hear her reply, but turned around to see him standing over her. The stop came and went and neither of us got off, because he wasn’t going anywhere and I was not about to leave the bus when this girl was alone in the back with this man, so I just kept looking back there every few second s or so, trying to figure out what to do. I then saw him kiss her forehead before finally leaving the seat area and walking out of the bus behind me. Since he’d seen me looking at him for the past 10 minutes (he was facing me; she wasn’t), I was worried he might try to follow me, so I went the opposite direction he did.

Should I have stopped this? I had an awful experience last year in Paris when I told a man to essentially fuck off when I caught him moving around in order to stare directly down my friend’s shirt- I ended up getting physically assaulted by him and basically had to run out of the car to escape him. So I didn’t want to try to get involved with this situation and then have the man follow me home or something. But I hope that girl is okay…

Submitted by H on 4/15/2010

Location: Circulator, Wisconsin Ave

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4 responses to ““Should I have stopped this?”

  1. Should I have stopped this? I had an awful experience last year in Paris when I told a man to essentially fuck off when I caught him moving around in order to stare directly down my friend’s shirt- I ended up getting physically assaulted by him and basically had to run out of the car to escape him. So I didn’t want to try to get involved with this situation and then have the man follow me home or something. But I hope that girl is okay…

    I feel you didn’t respond not because you didn’t know if it was a good idea or not, but because you were afraid to do so due to your previous experience. I don’t blame you at all…it’s a tough battle to get involved in.

    When I see anyone who looks uncomfortable in what appears to be harassment, I speak up, and I too get those reactions. I get physically threatened, called names, and 9 times out of 10 not a soul steps in to help me. DC has such an “all about me and no one else matters” attitude and too much of a bystander mentality. If more people were willing to jump in and help when things got sketchy, then more people would feel bold enough to stand up to harassers. There is a safety in numbers that people just don’t realize!

    Don’t kick yourself because you didn’t react this time. I’m sure that in DC there will sadly be a next time that something like this happens, and hopefully you’ll have the strength to take a stand. And if I ever see someone standing up to a harasser and getting chewed out, I will back the person who took a stand 100%. No one should have to stand up to these fools alone.

  2. there’s no one “should do” in these situations, it’s all dicey judgment calls. she seemed to have had things in hand, if she genuinely and desperately needed help she could have made stronger signals.

  3. I’m no expert, but a suggestion for next time may be to just turn around and be like “Damn!” when you hear the harasser make a crude comment. You can play it off as funny and non-confrontational, but the objective is to get the target’s attention — because then you can make eye contact and say something sarcastic to the effect of, “Do you know this Cassanova or are they just ‘sweet-talking’ you like that at random?”

    If the target says they don’t know the harasser, then it’s worth intervening and telling the crude one that this is a shared space and you don’t want to hear those remarks. Just be prepared to absorb any of the unwanted attention being displaced from the target onto you — so be smart about it and don’t be afraid to speak up to the bus driver if you feel uncomfortable.

    • …so be smart about it and don’t be afraid to speak up to the bus driver if you feel uncomfortable.

      From some stories that were posted on Stop Street Harassment, bus drivers don’t always intervene. Better training needs to be done so drivers do more than simply drive the bus. Others suggest to call Metro Transit Police when stuff goes down on the bus, but that too doesn’t necessarily have good results.

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