The Sexist

Street Harassment Bystander Whipped With a Belt for Intervening

Today on Holla Back DC!, a bystander witnessed a man harassing and stalking a woman on the street in Mount Pleasant, and decided to step in. After a confrontation, the bystander walked away with bruises courtesy of the harasser's belt. Here's the story:

I was walking off a late-night snack around 3:30 in the morning. There was a woman walking with a man right behind her. She kept turning around at him. I could tell that she didn’t want his attention. She was headed down Irving which is a very dimly lit street. At one point the woman suddenly jumped back and began dialing on her cellphone. I figured she was calling the police. Being just across the street, I approached them and ask for the time. The woman seemed startled. The man just looked at me. The woman then continued down Irving street. The man began to follow her. I yelled,”You shouldn’t be doing that.” The guy stopped and turned around towards me. I pulled out my pocket camera and took a quick picture. That really got his attention. The woman kept walking down Irving and the man’s attention was now on me. He mumbled something and then came towards me.

I crossed Mount Pleasant street and he followed me. He began taking off his belt and then began swinging it at me in a zig-zag cross motion. The belt buckle struck me several times. I lifted my cane to stop the blows. I began yelling. There was a couple walking across the street and a guy yelled, "We’re calling the police." I managed to strike the assailant with my cane on his head. I had hit him so hard that my cane bent. He ran across the street into an alley. Another man was walking past me and I told him to watch out. The assailant was now gathering beer bottles as the police approached. He threw a bottle just as the first of 3 police cars stopped. . . . The assailant was arrested. The woman was safe. I am covered in bruises.

When the problems of street harassment and public sexual assault are raised on this blog, readers sometimes respond by placing the onus on ending harassment on the harassee. This usually takes one of three forms:

(a) Don't overreact. Just learn to take a compliment.

(b) Why didn't you fight back? Kick him in the balls.

(c) Street harassers are too dangerous for us to expect anyone else to intervene.

Of course, challenge (c) points out the problem with expecting victims of harassment to either (a) shake it off or (b) fight back. It also shows how violent misogyny can transfer pretty easily from female targets to anyone who would defend them. So—beyond preventative measures—how do we help minimize the risk of street harassment when we see it, while keeping ourselves safe? Last year, local self-defense expert Lauren Taylor gave Sexist readers some tips on being a pro-active bystander:

* Look out for number one. “Always think about your own safety first,” Taylor says. “Look at who’s around who could back you up if necessary. If you’re inside, say at a bar or social event, figure out where the doors are.”

* Speak to the victim. “When you’re thinking about intervening, address the person you think is being targeted,” Taylor says. “Say to her, ‘Are you OK?’ Or, ‘Can I do anything?’ Or, ‘Do you want to come with me?’ This won’t necessarily solve the situation, but it will let her know that there are other options. It will let her know that people are seeing what’s happening, and it lets the harasser know the same thing. There are witnesses, and it’s not going to go unnoticed.”

* Make a scene. “For example, you could draw attention to it by saying something like, ‘This guy is putting his hands all over her!’ Or, ‘This guy is harassing her!’ and that could draw enough attention to the situation that the harasser would cut it out,” Taylor says. “Airing any of these things, and making them more visible, will ultimately make them better.”

“Now, the harasser may respond by saying, ‘Who are you? This has nothing to do with you! She doesn’t mind!,’” Taylor says. “But you still have transformed what’s going on, and possibly made it safer. The harasser talking back doesn’t mean it didn’t work.”

* Even if the victim doesn’t ask for help, you can still do something. “Like with everything, it totally depends on the situation,” Taylor says. “Especially if it’s a partner thing, you may hear the victim respond, ‘Oh, I’m okay, go away.’ But I still think it makes a difference that it was noticed and recognized.”

The Holla Back DC! witness looks to have followed Taylor's tips to a T. Results were mixed: While the initial harassee got away safely and an obviously dangerous person was arrested, the bystander paid the price with a painful and scary physical confrontation.

Photo of Mount Pleasant by NCinDC, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

  • Jess

    Good for that guy for saying something, and look how when one person got involved, other people took notice of the situation and started helping. It's a shame he was injured, but the creep was ultimately arrested and no really serious damage was done.

  • http://suchavegan.blogspot.com Megan

    That bystander is my new hero!

  • Channing

    The most baller part of this story is the casual mention of the cane.

  • Zammo

    Confronting street harassers is extremely risky. A man willing to harass a woman on the street is clearly not a man who holds himself to the social niceties such as not physically attacking someone, man or woman.

    Lauren Taylor has it right - "Look out for number one. Always think about your own safety first."

    I'm number one.

  • Beth

    There is a very real possibility that cane dude saved cellphone lady's life.

  • Jeff

    Isn't this the kind of chivalry this blog doesn't support?

    Wasn't this two men fighting over a woman?

  • Sarah

    Seriously, Jeff? Two men "fighting over" a woman? How about a person intervening when seeing a fellow person in trouble? While the harasser may have viewed the woman as some sort of property, the bystander clearly did not.

  • cmb

    Channing, I agree! The story doesn't mention that the man who intervened had any physical disability, just that he hit the assailant with his cane. That's pretty incredible.

    I forget how dangerous street harassers can be. Usually ignoring them is enough, but so many women live in fear of the one man who will do more than just make lewd remarks.
    Walking home alone last night, a group of college-aged guys who were clearly all intoxicated (including the driver) started yelling sexual remarks at me. Tired and irritable, I yelled "fuck off" and kept walking. The car literally TURNED AROUND, drove up next to me, and threw several fast food cups full of ice at me.

    But what do these street harassers EXPECT? I honestly still don't get it. Did they think I would decide to get in the car and provide them all with sexual favors?

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Not sure why some are assuming that the bystander was a dude.

  • Zammo

    "Not sure why some are assuming that the bystander was a dude."

    Extremely valid point!

  • Kit-Kat

    I assumed the bystander was a man because the story was posted by "Cephas," which is a male name.

  • Jeff

    "Seriously, Jeff? Two men “fighting over” a woman? How about a person intervening when seeing a fellow person in trouble?"

    You say tomato...

    "While the harasser may have viewed the woman as some sort of property, the bystander clearly did not."

    The situation, however, is the same when viewed objectively. Two men fighting over a woman as property looks the same as this fight. The woman was just lucky the man who stood up for her was somebody who didn't view her as property or expect compensation, but the paradigm hasn't changed at all. She was stripped of her own agency and a man had to solve her problem for her.

    That is, if this was actually a man to begin with, as Amanda pointed out.

    I'm not sure this story is going to encourage more people to intervene. It seems like he/she didn't like doing it and the tone sounds like he/she wasn't thanked at all by the person he/she saved. It seems like the only prize for stepping in is pain, bruises, and empty praise from internet strangers.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    @Jeff I didn't write this post to encourage people to physically intervene when they see street harassment. I wrote it because the situation is interesting.

    @Kit-Kat Can also be a last name, or just as likely, an Internet handle.

  • http://www.moorephotographix.tv Ron The Don

    Too bad he got hurt, but at least he got a dangerous person off the street! I wish we had more people like that these days!

  • kza

    Street harassment can be solved if we all carry around canes.

  • LeftSidePositive

    Jeff, please stop being a pompous ass. This is NOTHING like "fighting over a woman." Nothing. It's only in your sick head that can't tell the difference between non-sexual concern for someone's well-being and treating another person like property or a sexual conquest. This person saw a person in trouble, and stood up for the person's physical safety and did NOT expect a number, a date, a lot of praise or access in return (if ze was even of the gender and/or orientation to be interested in the woman anyway).

    And, furthermore, the woman was not "robbed of her own agency." She chose not to confront the perpetrator, likely because of an entirely understandable fear of being VIOLENTLY ATTACKED. The person who came to her aid either did not realize the danger or was wiling to take those risks. I respect any individual's right to assess risk and make one's own decisions about what risks are acceptable to oneself or how to stand up for oneself or others.

    And, the point of this is NOT "Be chivalrous! Risk life and limb for the fair lady tormented by the street harasser!" It's to point out that street harassers may very likely be DANGEROUS CRIMINALS. This is important to point out why so many women do not fight back (and then get berated by others for being too passive!), that being harassed IS a big deal and IS threatening so no we won't just "consider it a compliment," and to point out that law enforcement needs to take this kind of thing seriously. I would bet you dollars to donuts that if this person called the police because a man was following a woman before the physical altercation, they wouldn't have done anything about it (or not very quickly!), and we all need to recognize that street harassment can be a precursor to violence and therefore should be addressed by law enforcement, and tolerance for it means that women live their lives with an omnipresent threat of danger which is NOT equal and NOT acceptable.

  • http://birthdaybreadhorse.wordpress.com/ Laura

    The situation, however, is the same when viewed objectively

    Translation: the situation, however, is the same when viewed by me, objective dude, unlike you hysterical feminists.

  • …done

    I used to live at the end of Mt. P. I had some man "walk with" me against my will down the length of that street.

    Thanks to that man who looked out for a fellow citizen. I only hope that cane causes some slow seepage.

    Thank You.

  • Melissa

    But...but...but...I thought that street harassment was just about men wanting to tell pretty ladies how nice they look! Harmless compliments! And here it's all makin' it look like harassment is about violence and control. Gee. My world has been rocked.

  • Jake K.

    I agree that there's a certain amount of rationalization on the part of witnesses when they decide not to intervene, but certainly you should factor in the possibility that they are in an existing relationship?

    Generally, I imagine abusive men utilize their significant others as a sort of blank canvas scapegoat, overpowering them to compensate for their own feelings of powerlessness outside of the relationship. (I could, obviously, be wrong) If that's the case, shouldn't we worry that our intervention, while preventing public abuse, could lead to an even more abusive response in private as "retribution" for her "making a scene"?

    I'm curious what the best way to mitigate this problem would be? To offer the woman a ride to a women's shelter? Call the police BEFORE addressing the abuser? I'm not really sure. . .

  • Jeff

    @LeftSide

    I don't think insults are called for. I'm not comparing it to chivalry because it fits perfectly with what the guy did (I'm sticking with man. It's a 50/50 guess.), I'm just saying that's what it looks like externally. And yeah the guy did see a woman in trouble, interjected himself without her permission (or apparent gratitude, because she buggered off, possibly thinking "better him than me") and took a beatdown for a complete stranger.

    @Laura

    "Translation: the situation, however, is the same when viewed by me, objective dude, unlike you hysterical feminists."

    I didn't mean it that way. I meant when you broke it down to its component parts, it's still a woman having a fight with a man and another man coming to her rescue. It's cool and great and all, but it's still the sort of behavior that's sort of frowned upon otherwise.

    My larger point is that, I remember waaay back a post here about bystander sexism and why men should step in to confront harassers or women would increase negative feelings about all men. This is a fair point, and I agree with it. More recently we've had posts blasting chivalry to pieces for its antiquated notions and historical and systematic reduction of women to a second class, despite all the courtesy that went their way. This is also a fair point, and I agree with it. Now we have this post detailing the (I'm assuming) man's account of being thrashed for stepping in and his only consolation is that he's a moral human being for doing so. All of these points together, how can men be expected to interject themselves without having such ideological behavior taught to them, and the only outcome being a sound beating and a lonely walk home?

  • LeftSidePositive

    Jeff, when you're saying "what it looks like externally," you're being willfully obtuse. Deciding that "Woman + 2 Men + Conflict" = "It all must be the same because I'm just such a rational, logical dude" (which you're not, you're just myopic) is to refuse to see anything you don't want to see. The *problem* with the "chivalrous" guy who interjects in a scene is his primary motivation is showing off his own valor, and these problem guys often have the direct intention of escalating violence, or using violence to show control over the woman. This person did NONE of those things, and made the very sensible choice to ask a vague question to assess the situation, used words not physical violence to object, and then took a picture. None of these things are the "machismo" that guys do to show off and expect gratitude, and more importantly the violence here came from the PERPETRATOR, not a guy showing off how "chivalrous" he is. What this person did was out of HUMAN DECENCY, not some warped paternalistic sense of being in charge of women around him (if this person even is a man!) or establishing his own manhood.

    Also, what's with your hostility to the woman in this situation? She never asked for the person's help, she doesn't know the person or know if he/she/it is better or worse than the one already following her around, and all she has been trying to do this whole time (before AND after the arrival of our narrator) is simply go about her business, which she has every right to do. Furthermore, the NARRATOR also intended to "bugger off"--ze crossed the street intending to leave, but then the perpetrator FOLLOWED and then attacked. Then the violence escalated AFTER both the woman and the narrator went their separate ways--it wasn't like you're painting it, as if the woman ran away from an active fight.

    "His ONLY consolation is that he's a moral human being for doing so"?!?!?!? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU????? Isn't it a major goal in ALL our lives to be moral human beings? Is being a moral human being unimportant to you? Is doing the right thing only worth it to you if you get to subjugate a whole class of people, belittle them, and expect sexual attention in return? You're one sick little puppy, dude.

    And this isn't "how can *men* be expected to interject themselves?!?!" This is talking about how ALL of us should think about the dangers others face, how we feel comfortable diffusing difficult situations and looking out for each other. Note that when this person was being attacked, others called the police because there was A PERSON IN TROUBLE and it's our moral obligation as good citizens to try to help those in trouble. Certain people may be willing to take more risks than others, and that's their choice and their right. THAT'S the "ideological behavior" that should be taught to EVERYONE, male or female--as simple as "do the right thing" or (gasp) "be a moral human being." It's not about maintaining power & privilege or insisting on a bunch of social perks for your "valor" but that, as members of (I hope) a kind and cohesive society, if we help someone hopefully we'll be helped when we need it to (just as this person was by the people who called the police).

  • EmilyBites

    'I meant when you broke it down to its component parts'
    Way to oversimplify to the point of meaninglessness. Jeff appears to think that everything can be broken down to its physical fundamentals and still...what, make sense? I've seen this argument used before by misogynists when talking about street harassment, and apparently we are overreacting to what is merely a case of 'A stranger speaking toor looking at another stranger of the opposite sex.'

    I assumed the bystander was female, perhaps because the harasser quickly chose the bystander as a target for a 'whipping', and the 'voice' showed a total understanding of the situation that you usually only get from women. (There's some internalised sexism right there for you MRAs to pounce on and slaver over!)

    Anyway what ze did was awesome and I am very sorry ze was hurt saving someone else. Stories like this also illustrate how street harassment is linked to physical violence and why many women (who do NOT know what the harasser intends to do or how far he'll go) hate being harassed!

  • http://bikegroggery.blogspot.com groggette

    She was stripped of her own agency and a man had to solve her problem for her.

    Story time!! (and trigger warning)
    A couple years back, a guy tried to grab me off the side of the road and rape me. He had probably 100 lbs and at least half a foot on me, as well as the element of surprise. I screamed and scratched and kicked and had enough presence of mind to keep on screaming so that I only had to focus on one of his hands/arms (the other was preoccupied with trying to cover my mouth). But he had me down on the ground and I had no weapon (he threatened to stab me so I assume he did although I never saw anything) and I would have been raped and probably killed. What saved me was another man. All it took was his presence (really the presence of anyone else probably would have worked) and my attempted rapist took off. If this man hadn't of come up and solved my problem for me I can't tell you if I'd even be alive right now. Strangely (not really), I don't feel "stripped of [my] own agency" in the least. I desperately needed help, and the second man provided that help.

    As an aside, I was joking around with the second man (he was a friend of mine) later and he said he was really glad my attempted rapist ran off before he (my friend) got closer. My friend is about half the size of me and one of the least intimidating people you could ever meet.

  • Keith B

    "I assumed the bystander was female, perhaps because the harasser quickly chose the bystander as a target for a ‘whipping’"

    A simpler explanation is that the bystander had a cane, which makes anyone an easier mark for a whuppin'.

  • Kit-Kat

    I'm aware that the fact that "Cephas" is a male name does not mean that the person who posted is, in fact, a man. I'm just saying that my reason for assuming it was a man had nothing to do with the story itself. Yes, a woman could have the last name "Cephas" or use "Cephas" as an internet handle, but it's also possible that it was a man named Cephas (or Peter). The assumption might be wrong, but was not related to the content of the story.

    And please, if anyone ever sees me being threatened, followed, or assaulted by someone, please feel free to "solve my problem" and "strip me of my agency" by intervening to help. I promise I won't mind.

  • Keith B

    I take that back. The defender could have been a retrosexual with an 18th century gentleman's cane. Or a steampunk with a badass chrome-skull-headed fighting cane. Not a cripple!

  • Golden Silence

    "And please, if anyone ever sees me being threatened, followed, or assaulted by someone, please feel free to “solve my problem” and “strip me of my agency” by intervening to help. I promise I won’t mind."

    The same goes for me! We need to put an end to bystander syndrome. I will definitely help someone if I see them in need of help.

  • LeftSidePositive

    And another thing--the person robbing the woman of her own agency WAS THE ATTACKER. Offering help (actual help, not starting a fight to show off!) is not robbing someone of their agency (on the contrary--it allows someone to re-assert it), and should ideally be gender-neutral. We all of us need help sometimes, and a person's individuality, moral autonomy and "agency" doesn't create a magical forcefield that prevents one from ever getting hurt. Having people willing to help us shouldn't depend on race, sex, age, orientation, social class or anything else. If a PERSON needs help, as good people we should do what we can.

  • http://craftygal1965.blogspot.com CraftyGal1965

    I have "intervened in a number of occasions, those times were the scariest fro me as other bystanders were just standing there or taking video with their cell phones. One time a women was on the LRT (Light Rapid Transit) and I just gotten off heading home, when I saw an altercation on the platform out of the corner of my eye.

    I immediately called police while ETS (Edmonton Transit Service) security was contacting their people. I stayed on the line and then gave a witness statement. It gave the woman enough time to get on the train heading out and he wasn't able to get on it.

    Before you say oh she must be intimidating...I am not. I am 5' 2" and 175 lbs. I can't run fast due to physical limitations, in fact I can't fight my way out of a paper bag! I just saw a situation and intervened. When asked why I did, I said I would hope that someone would do that for me or my daughter or step-daughter.

    I have also had help, I was stalked by and ex-boyfriend and he wanted me back so what does he do when I tel him to get lost? He hit and then tried to slam my face into a brick wall. I have never seen 4 men run a cross 6 lanes of traffic and on a diagonal move as fast as they did! I had no idea anyone had seen what was happening. Not only did they stop him, they drove me home and made sure that I was alright before taking off. Did I feel as if they "stripped me of my agency"? HELL NO! I thank god everyday that they intervened when they did or I may not have been here to write this story.

    It goes both ways.

    CraftyGal

  • Typical DC BS

    I think an important point made in the article is to ask the woman if she's OK / needs help.

    In college, we had a county run battered women's shelter (as they were called back in the early 80's) a few doors down from our fraternity house. We heard a commotion outside on a Saturday morning and saw a young male walking alongside a young woman down the sidewalk stopping her and slapping / punching her every few steps. I was on our front porch smoking and walked over to ask if she was alright. Before I said two words, the male told me to mind my business and slapped her upside the head when she tried to say something.

    When I proceeded to slap him upside the head after that stunt, he blew up and started throwing punches. Unfortunately for him, 5 or 6 of my fraternity brothers boiled out of the house and helped me kick his ass.

    During the fracas, the woman started pulling my hair and trying to get me off the guy, telling me she was fine (with a swollen eye and blood running from her mouth). Once the police arrived, she tried to have all of us arrested, saying we started the whole thing with her boyfriend.

    Turns out, she had called her boyfriend from the women's shelter and told him where she was at. She slipped out and met him, whereupon he started his usual crap with her. Luckily for us, the woman overseeing the shelter heard the commotion and let the police know she had been a resident of the shelter and had shown up a week before with her daughter, both of whom had arrived beaten.

    She declined to press charges against either the boyfriend or us after the shelter supervisor appeared. The cops left and the boyfriend was taken to the hospital.

  • Golden Silence

    Typical DC BS, because of that story, I hope you don't give up on helping someone out if they need it. In that woman's case, she's a victim of abuse, and she's been so conditioned by her abusive boyfriend that she considers violence "normal" behavior, so when someone does show that they're concerned about her well-being, she doesn't know how to handle it. I hope that the programs that the shelter provided her got her out of that mindset and helped her realize that abuse is not healthy for her or her child.

    "I think an important point made in the article is to ask the woman if she’s OK / needs help."

    I agree.

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