I was walking home from the grocery store the other night, bags in hand, when suddenly I heard the sound of a woman more or less screaming bloody murder. I looked around and saw four guys and a woman across the street in front of me, probably in their 20′s (numbers are an exception to the no apostrophes in plurals rule), and it seriously looked and sounded like the woman was being attacked. At one point it appeared she was trapped in between three of the guys, then she got away and ran around a car, and then the fourth guy chased and seized her, and you could hear all the guys laughing.
Obviously, after all this time, I wasn’t about to do nothing. Or was I? I kept watching to see if it really was an attack, as it wasn’t that late at night and there were still people out on the street, walking up and down both sidewalks. Should I cross the street and tell the guys to stop, and help her? (But what if I’m wrong? Or what if they attack me too?) Should I call the police? I started reaching for my cell phone, then realized I didn’t even know the local police/emergency number.
Should I leave it for someone else to handle? (So this is what the bystander effect feels like.) I noticed another, older woman jogging towards me, and she was looking over at the woman and four guys as well. Desperately hoping she would somehow take this out of my hands, I practically went right up to meet her and looked her straight in the eyes, almost blurting out, “Do you see what’s happening, too? Should we do something?” But before I could even make a sound, she was gone; she hadn’t even slowed down her jog. At that moment, once our eyes had met with no results, I felt we were immediately sworn accomplices, co-conspirators in Operation: Desert Silence.
I took a few more uncertain, conflicted steps towards the direction of my home. (Wouldn’t she make more effort to actually run away if she were truly being attacked? Oh, so this is how victim-blaming works.) Suddenly, I saw another man a few feet away from me, in the shadow of a storefront. He was watching the scene across the street as well, and dialing on his cellphone at the same time. My mind desperately freewheeled, grasping at straws while still fearing the short one. (He must be calling the police; it’s okay.)
I took more steps towards home, turning back towards the scene every few seconds. (Aren’t you a feminist? Or do your values only stand as far as your keyboard?) Then I turned completely around and walked back the way I came, so that I would be almost directly across the street from the men and woman again. They were still going at it, but the commotion seemed to have simmered down a bit. I kept watching, walking back and forth over that section of sidewalk between the grocery store and my home so it wouldn’t seem as obvious (Or should you make it obvious, that someone notices? Would that help?). Eventually, I ascertained they were basically goofing off, playing some sort of flirty tag/cat-and-mouse but just very noisily; moreover, I’m pretty sure I also saw the woman end up resting in one of the guys arms. So, I went home.
(But what if?)