Often when we tell a story of intervention in a training people will ask “weren’t you afraid you would get hurt?“ or “What if they turn the violence on you?“ or some variation. I always assure people no one is asking them to do anything they don’t feel okay about doing and that yes, we always assess the risk level. We do. But I think that lesson hit home for me on an emotional level only today.
I left the house this AM and it was still dark. Pulling to the end of the driveway I realized I forgot my glasses and left the car at the end of the drive to run up and get them. As I was about to get back in the car I heard yelling from the apartments across the street. It sounded like a woman calling for help.
My house is one of 4 surrounded by a sea of apartments. A crowed mass of student housing and low to very low income apartments. Sometimes it seems like just too damn many people crowded into to little of a space, and as such we always see more crime and violence in economically challenging times. I have occasionally intervened in neighborhood fights or threats of violence so this turn of events didn’t surprise me.
Anyway, someone was calling for help so I raced over to see what I could do. Somewhat hidden behind the dumpster was a guy and it looked like he was grabbing the woman who was yelling for help. As I approached them I called out. “hey, can I help?“, or something to that effect (I honestly don’t remember what I said ). I stepped closer and as I got about an arms length from them he let go of her.
It turned out to be a trap and he pulled a knife on me. He moved to the side so that the dumpster was on my right, she was in-front of me and he was on my left. I could turn my back to them or walk backwards over the uneven curb in the dark. He demanded I give them my money.
I didn’t have any money with me ( I had left my purse on my car across the street) so they didn’t actually take anything. Clearly this was both poor planning and poor execution of a plan on their part and I told them as much. “I didn‘t grab my purse. I heard someone in trouble so I quick came to help.”
It only took a minute to realize they weren’t really going to hurt me. More than anything the knife (a kitchen knife like you’d use to cut bread. ) seemed a prop. They wanted money – not to hurt me.
Still, it freaked me out. It also fucking pissed me off, so I yelled at her. (“you stupid shit , this is why people don’t go help when they hear someone yelling. How many women have been hurt because people were too scared to get involved. Way to reinforce that! What the fuck kind of solidarity is that.” )
Now, I know that the fact that I was way more pissed at her than him is totally sexist. But, in that moment I felt totally betrayed that a woman would do that. Really, how many women have been in dangerous situations yelling for help and no one has come forward. It seemed appalling to me that she would use that set up. What about sisterhood and solidarity and all that?
Also, I get that yelling at someone is usually not the very best de-escalation strategy. It is not a tool that usually comes to mind. It was all kind of on instinct. But, it seemed to work.
I think they were both so stunned that I was 1) yelling at her and 2) completely ignoring the man w/ the knife, that they didn’t know what to do. So she just grabbed his arm said, “let’s go” and they walked away.
I was going to leave it at that, I am always hesitant to put anyone into the criminal injustice system. But, after much much thinking and weighing the pluses and minuses I did go file a police report. Which, I think (I’m still not 100% sure) was the right thing.
Clearly the 2 had a plan (a bad one, but a plan) and someone could get hurt.
The cops were mostly very nice, but seemed stunned that I could describe the woman in so much detail, but not the man w/ the knife. I was looking at her (eye contact and all that) when I was yelling at her, but he was a bit off to the side and really was at some point kind of irrelevant. Like I said, it didn’t take long to realize they weren’t really likely going to hurt me. The police were also totally confused by this idea that he could have been irrelevant.. They also kind of snarked at me for putting myself in danger , that I “should call 9-1-1 and all that.
When it was all over I really just needed to say “AGGG” so I called my friend Laurel. I knew she would listen and not freak out. She was great and knowing that humor is healing had me laughing in no time! Especially my “man with a knife was irrelevant” comment. She kept saying “Hey, I have a knife. AND a penis. Why am I not the center of attention? ” “I have my symbolic penis and a real penis, I am not irrelevant “
So, things don’t always work out as you planned. And yes, sometimes you end up in potentially dangerous situations, and yes… I would do it again. As I tried to explain to the police officers taking my report (and as I have to friends recently ) that if I stop myself from getting involved, if I don’t try to help someone that may need it because I am scared – then I am a victim even if nothing ever happens to me because I have gone against my values.
It doesn’t’ always work out as you plan. But it often works out okay.