How Do I intervene?

Yesterday I witnessed a man pull a woman by her hand and then grab her purse and drag her by it. Her purse strap broke and he walked off while calling her a “no-good cunt”.  I crossed the street and asked if she was alright. She was crying. I asked if I could do anything for her. She said ‘no’ and then hugged me and thanked me. I told her to “not put up with that shit” and we parted ways. I wanted to tell her to “leave the asshole”, but I didn’t. I wanted to go yell at the guy, but I didn’t want to make things worse for her and invade her agency. Does anyone have any thoughts on the best way to help a woman in that situation? Maybe I did the right thing? Maybe I could have called the police, but she might have not pressed charges, gone home with him and been beaten worse. I also wanted to offer her a night at my place, but didn’t. I would appreciate any advice on how I could respond to seeing an incident like that.

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2 Responses

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  1. Renée says:

    You definitely did the right thing. Good for you for being open and brave and comforting to a stranger in distress!

    Question, though: Was she actually with him, or was he a stranger to her?

    There’s nothing wrong with telling a woman to leave a man who is abusing her. Maybe if she hears it enough times she’ll get the courage to do it.

  2. Victoria Hollaback! says:

    Asking the woman what she needed was a great response to what happened. You made it possible for her to determine what kind of support she needs, and that is the best way to respect someone’s agency and self-determination.

    Your instinct not to tell her to “leave that asshole” was a good one because telling someone what to do is usually not an empowering way to offer support and circumstances are often much more complex than that.

    An alternative to saying “you should just leave that asshole”, could be “You don’t deserve to be treated that way. No one does.” While the former tells someone what to do, the latter is a validation of their inherent worth as a human being.

    I can appreciate your feeling conflicted about calling the police. They represent the law, and sometimes they uphold it, but often in cases of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and street harassment, the justice system fails to protect people who have experienced violence, while protecting perpetrators. The statistics of charge and conviction rates speak for themselves: one in ten reported sexual assaults will result in charges laid, and one in one hundred reports will result in a conviction.

    As a result of these facts, and as you have mentioned, there may be very real, harmful consequences for this woman when she returns home, I would not advise taking it upon yourself to call the police in this instance. Making the decision to call the police for this woman may be interpreted by her as an act of rescuing, and thus taking away her personal agency. Perhaps calling the police could be suggested to her as an option – only if she is asking for your input – but I discourage you from offering unsolicited advise or police involvement because both of these options fail to centre this persons right to autonomy and personal agency.

    Finally, I would caution any reader to buy into the idea that repeatedly telling someone what to do will result in them leaving an abusive partner. There are many reasons that people chose to remain in relationships, and making judgements about how someone should live their life based on one aspect of their relationship is to fail to see the people for who they truly are. Telling someone to leave repeatedly creates a story that they are failing as a person and this is victim-blaming. The last thing any survivor of violence needs is to have another person blaming them for someone else’s actions.

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