Right here at the top, I am going to state as explicitly as possible that the story to follow is one that has many layers, complications, and is complex. I unequivocally state for the record that I am not offering any definitive answers or attempting to be judgmental on any party involved. I’m simply going to explain what happened and tell you my reaction. The goal is to spark discussions about these tough situations and to deepen my own experience (and hopefully others) and knowledge and curiosity in order to better understand what actions can actually be taken.
Okay, I think that’s enough of a preamble. Let’s get on with the show!
After working late, I was walking home at about 10:00 pm from my office on Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue. Coming down a side street towards Queen, a couple burst out of the alleyway in a full-blown argument. The woman was walking quickly and a few steps ahead of the man.
First problem: I don’t know how to describe them without provoking some kind of judgment. All I will say is that the aggressiveness with which they moved and yelled and spoke, slurring words and so on, I assumed that some kind of drugs or alcohol were involved.
Generally speaking, if a couple is publicly fighting, it’s none of my business. Things escalated. They crossed the street, continuing down the alleyway. He grabbed her by the arms, pulling her in close, and holding her there so he could yell at her.
By this point, I had stopped. The escalation caused everything to become hyper-aware: how far are they were from me, who was around, where was the main street, cars, surrounding houses, apartments. A woman out walking her dog had also stopped close to the alleyway. We looked at each other and I stepped across the street next to her.
He still had his hands on her, yelling. The struggling woman saw us, and yelled, “There’s fucking people watching us.” Then pointed at us and said, “Mind your own business!”
Here’s what we did. At that point, the man was being very aggressive and started yelling at us without letting go of the struggling woman. I looked at the woman with the dog, without speaking, she decided to speak. She called out to the struggling woman, “Is everything okay?” At this point, she broke free from the man and started yelling at us: “Mind your own fucking business. You think I can’t take this guy? If he tried anything, I’ll cut him.” The woman with the dog said, “Okay, we just want to know if anyone needs any help.” The couple walked down the street in the opposite direction yelling at each other. The woman with the dog and I didn’t really speak, we just continued on our way.
This all happened in like thirty seconds. I spent the rest of the night piecing together my rationale for decisions and what I should have done differently. Unpacking the complexities of the situation.
Life isn’t a fucking movie. No matter how much I wanted to burst in there thinking I’m John Wick, I felt it was the right decision to slowly move in on the situation and stay at a distance. As I said, the behaviour was aggressive, and I had no idea what little word or movement could have set this guy off. I do believe it was the right decision for the safety of the struggling woman, the dog walker, and my own.
The dog walker and I formed an unspoken alliance at a safe distance. I felt this was important to at least establish that there were other people around, that we had taken notice, and we weren’t going away. We weren’t intervening (yet), but we weren’t leaving either. The two of us also seemed to make the agreement for her to speak. This might be controversial, but the reasoning here, to me at least, was sound. I do know men, I’ve met men like this in my life. If I spoke, this could be interpreted as threatening-
Okay, okay, aside, aside. I am not commenting or at least not intending to reinforce any type of gender stereotypes. To me, the split-second decision the dog walker and I made, to me, was simply optics. In order to not escalate the aggressive behaviour further, we chose to present our alliance in such a way that was least threatening. Yes, I understand that this in of itself is gender stereotyping, but there are some decisions you make in the heat of a moment that unfortunately aren’t the ones you want to make. In this particular moment, there was no room to explain that I was not being threatening. Anyways, this is a rabbit hole. I’m sorry.
-and in my mind, this actually defused him a bit. However, it had the opposite effect on the struggling woman, as this was when she started yelling at us.
Yes, we should have called the police. But. First, we don’t know the situation or the people involved. Second, it all happened so fast.
Was this even any of our business? I would controversially say yes and no. Yes, because someone is getting violated and someone else is breaking the law. Whenever you see violence in public, it is so jarring and just wrong. Full stop.
And no. You expect a victim to ask for help. You expect a victim to be aware that they are a victim. This is not always the case. The struggling woman yelled at us to fuck off and continued on her way with the man. With no knowledge of their shared history, no further information, I would take a guess to say that yes, she does need help. But, how do you know? This may be justifying why the dog walker and myself did not call the police, even after the altercation was over. But unfortunately, through my own experience, and to varying degrees, I understand some - not all - but some of the angles.
If everything went according to plan, we would have called the police. The couple would have waited there until they came. The struggling woman would have told the police that the man had assaulted her. That fucking asshole would have been taken away in handcuffs. She would get help and learn that no one should ever treat her in that way again. The struggling woman wasn’t struggling anymore.
And … scene.
Shit doesn’t work out that way. This is where nuance is important, where things get complicated. Beyond getting into the whole concept of the systematic problem of violence against women, of which I do not have the place to speak to, because I am at a loss of how to make men understand that they can’t do this anymore. What I am attempting to do with writing about this here is to say that yes, I want to be John Wick, but the reality is I don’t know what to do. Meet violence with further violence? Should I have walked by and ignored the situation? By not intervening in a more aggressive or physical way, am I simply enabling this guy? Where is my responsibility in this woman’s life?
Okay, I am bringing up my own personal thoughts and experiences not to make it about me, but to just be able to work in some thoughts and questions I have. In the end, it makes me sad and angry that I couldn’t really do anything for the struggling woman, all of which does nothing to help her.
And on and on we keep going.