Blame

Last night when I got home I told my Mum about what had happened on the train/bus yesterday. I blogged about the incidents and so many of you responded. It seems several of you have confronted people regarding their behaviour – in particular with regards to loud music – and been faced with aggressive reactions. Having seen it happen on public transport so often myself, your experiences didn’t exactly shock me.

But, and here’s the strange thing, my experience did shock my Step-Dad. As strange a sentence as this will sound, my Step-Dad only ever really speaks to me (voluntarily) when he feels I’ve suffered an injustice of some description. So you can imagine how shocked I was at 9pm last night when my mother phoned and told me she was going to hand the phone over to him.

Pete was shocked and disgusted at the behaviour I had suffered. He felt it was aggressive and intimidatory, and could easily escalate into something far more sinister and predatory. He urged me to phone the bus company to make them aware of the situation, and to phone the police to ensure the incident was logged.

Now, I’m not really the type to phone the police over this sort of thing. I mean, I wasn’t actually harmed in anyway – I wasn’t even scared so much as furious – and I have an innate fear of wasting anyone’s time. I am also acutely aware that, had I not challenged the young man in question, I wouldn’t have been victim to his whims. In fact, and this is the worrying point of the situation, I felt that I myself was to blame for provoking him.

So, a young man is using sexual language in a way that I find offensive, I challenge him and am subject to further, verbal sexual harassment. Where do I get off blaming myself?

Would he have been less likely to react had I not been a blond in a dress and heels?

What if I’d been one of the male passengers – might I have put myself in physical danger by facing up to him?

This can of worms was probably best left unopened, but the blame culture is one I have huge issues with. On the one hand, there’s the horrible pettiness of a legal system who would have you sue anyone for anything at the drop of a hat (did anyone else read about the chap who tried to sue M&S because he broke a tooth on a peach purchased from them? He got a hefty settlement of fifty quid and a mention in the local press as the world sniggered “nice try”). I want no part of the blame culture that is entirely about making money out of misfortune.

But on the other hand, there’s the more sinister side of the blame game, the side that so worryingly sees more than half of those interviewed for the Wake Up to Rape report still laying the blame for rape and sexual assault at the victim’s feet. The line between neglect and victimisation is blurry anyway – neglect in the sense of a lack of precautionary action can have very serious consequences. But to my mind it differs dramatically from deliberately aggressive, abusive or intimidatory action. I don’t think the yob on the bus yesterday had any intention of harming or even scaring me, and I don’t think I even impinged that much on his afternoon, so caught up was he in his gangsta fantasy. But he did intend to intimidate me, and probably to put me back in “my place”. And it pretty much worked – I even wrote myself that “I couldn’t face another confrontation”.

I did speak to the customer helpline at the bus company, and they logged it, not as a complaint at my insistence, but as someone to look out for for the sake of future passengers. Maybe I should have phoned the police, but seriously, what could they have done? Without his identifying baseball cap I couldn’t have pulled this guy out of a line up, he was so very unremarkable. My only memories of his appearance are that of a sense of disappointment that such lovely eyes should be wasted in so vile a person, and surprise at the clarity of his skin. He was a genuinely confounding specimen.

So, what do you think I should have done? Should I have phoned the police? Does the fact that so many of us have suffered at the hands of unpleasant, ill-mannered and intimidating yobs make us immune to it? Should we be seeing such incidents for the affrontary they are or should we let them slide as part of modern life? Or was it my fault for laying myself open to offense in the first place?

What would you have done?

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11 thoughts on “Blame

  1. The police can’t help. Even if you had called when it happened, they would have shown up hours later.

    I’m really sorry, I am so sad that happened to you.

    Honestly, I’ve stopped confronting people because I had one too many things like that happen to me and I too get so angry I cry all night. It’s not worth it.

    I think letting the bus company know was good, and about as much as you can do. I wish we could stand up to the lot of them, the entire bus and say “what is WRONG with you? Why are you not HELPING me?”

  2. I didn’t actually know how to respond to your confrontation post, despite the number of times the same things has happened to me but combined with a couple of recent conversations, my blood is getting quite close to boiling point.

    No, you don’t want to get involved ina litigation culture, but by reporting him either to the bus company or the police, you’re not. You’re standing up and saying quite clearly that you were intimidated by the behaviour of a fellow passenger and you found it unacceptable. Public services now have signs everywhere saying that harassing or abusive behaviour will not be tolerated. If the youth in question had been singing along to Nazi propaganda, would THAT have made it more ok to stand up against? The point is that there’s a line. His behaviour crossed it. You weren’t telling him to turn his music off, he was quite entitled to carry on listening, just not to inflict it on the other passengers by singing out loud.

    I have a friend who fell victim to an attempted mugging last week and wasn’t going to report it to the police because her family had brushed it under the carpet and said it wasn’t a big deal. Luckily, she did and maybe went some way to helping the police catch her attacker before he does it to someone else.

    Equally, another friend of mine discussed her concerns with her boss at walking back from her workplace to where she parks her car because it’s quite a dodgy area and in the dark, she feels vulnerable and unsafe, especially as she’s been stalked through her workplace by 2 different individuals. Her employer randomly brushed it off by saying that nobody has been attacked walking home or to their cars so why worry?

    Does she have to be attacked or raped before precautions are taken? How serious does it have to be before you feel justified in standing up and saying that you’ve been made to feel unsafe. To dismiss antisocial behaviours like this is irresponsible and a very far cry indeed from ‘crying wolf’.

    We should start a movement, a promise to one another, that if we ever see someone in the position you found yourself in, we will speak up or help. If the police’s hands are tied, we need to rely on other civilised members of our society to support us when we challenge what we find unacceptable, be it singing offensive lyrics, dropping litter, or spitting in the street. Enough is enough.

    So that’s my rant over …

  3. I would have complained to the bus driver. Or in this case, start wearing headphones. I would avoid things like that on a bus because I also cannot handle confrontation. I get all shaky and my adrenaline rises. Once, I parked at my bf;s house (now husband) and when I went back to my car to leave some jackass parked so close to me, I couldn’t get my door open.
    So I left him a note saying “You need to learn how to park”.
    My bf got really mad at me and said “you better hope he doesn’t remember your car or he is going to deface it and blah blah blah”. Or i would have just gotten off the bus. It’s really not worth it to say something because of the possibility that the idiot might follow you home, or pull out a gun, or whatnot. Too many people have been killed trying to be a good samaratin. Yet, from the other end of the spectrum, this jackasss thrives off of that. thrives off of intimidation and living up to his gansta persona, when really in the end, I’m sure he isn’t but is trying to find his place as a guy.
    It’s really a tough debate.

  4. Hey – can you let me know your email address? I have something to say about the blame culture but it’s a bit too personal to leave in a comment!

    I think you were very brave to confront the guy on the bus though – I would have probably been too timid and scared to do anything, although that could be because of my past issues just as much as my fear of what a confrontation like that could lead to. I agree it would probably have been a waste of time to contact the police for something relatively minor like this, especially when you don’t have any identifying features about him, but for muggings etc it’s a must – I can’t believe your friend’s family downplayed it.

  5. I have phoned the police in the past about people who have been threatening towards me – the time that springs to mind was a teenage guy who started screaming at me (while brandishing a huge tree branch) in the woods near our house, when I was out walking the dog one day. I was in two minds about whether or not to report it, but they sent round an officer, and he was really, really nice about it. I kept apologising for wasting their time (by the time they turned up it was hours later, obviously), but the police officer told me not to apologise: he said, “The important thing is that this person made you feel threatened, and if you feel threatened it’s worth reporting it.” While there was nothing they could really DO about my particular situation, he did say they would be on the lookout for any other similar reports from the area, because if the guy had tried to threaten me, he would probably do it to someone else, too.

    That said, I don’t know if I would have called the police in your case, but I definitely think you were right to contact the bus company, and if I’d thought of it yesterday, I’d have suggested it. Still outraged that a bus-full of people sat there and let you be treated like that, though!

  6. Hi,

    I agree with what others have said, you were brave in the situation and calling the bus company was a good thing to do as well – perhaps they can train their bus drivers to deal with these situations.

    I’m in Melbourne and we have ‘Transit Police’, where police actually patrol public transport, although it’s mainly on trains.

    I do miss the days of conductors, where at least there was someone official to help.

    It’s sad that no one else spoke up for you – such a symptom of our society that is increasingly individualistic and less community minded I think.

    But I would still encourage you and anyone else, including myself, if faced with such a situation in the future, perhaps reach out to the other passengers and just say ‘Can someone please help me?’

    It takes additional courage and is hard to do when you’re overwhelmed in a situation but I think people would respond.

    That said, I hope you never have to face this again.

    On the other side of the coin of rudeness, I have found many helpful people on public transport, particularly when I’m travelling with my child and pram. Complete strangers have carried my pram onto buses and trams for me.

  7. I think that you did the right thing; I’m inclined to agree that the police would have done little to assist you, although by reporting the incident, hopefully bus company staff will be more aware of This Charming Man (ahem) should he strike again.

    On a more personal note, well done for keeping your cool (at least on the outside!) and not reacting – either with tears or shouts; I work with people with anger management problems, and a reaction was probably just what he was looking for, and would have affirmed his behaviour.

    A sad testament to our society, and one of the reasons that I avoid public transport wherever possible, especially if I’m on my own.

    Nice wiggle dress by the way, maybe he was jealous?? 😉

  8. You certainly did the right thing to contact the bus company, and I think you did the right thing in confronting the young man also. It is disappointing and depressing that nobody on the bus did anything to come to your aid, disappointing also that there was nobody else who thought to speak up in the first place. I’m sure you were not the only one who was offended or annoyed by his music.

    The idea of ‘blame’ is really interesting, though. On my train this morning a woman with a SCREAMING child got onto the quiet carriage in Banbury, and when someone asked her to take her child into another coach she stormed down the aisle ranting about it. I thought to myself that the quiet carriage wasn’t the best place to take a screaming child, but this woman seemed convinced that her rights had been in some way violated. So did the man who I politely asked to talk more quietly in the quiet carriage on another train journey – he accused me of thinking I was the ‘thought police’ – at no point did either of these people think about how their actions were affecting others, and their reaction to having that fact brought to their attention was to lash out, and to intimidate, to put the blame on the person who was inconvenienced.

    Michelle’s comment above “It’s sad that no one else spoke up for you – such a symptom of our society that is increasingly individualistic and less community minded I think.” is completely right, and I think it goes hand in hand with anti-social behaviour itself – it doesn’t matter how your behaviour has an impact on other people if it is what you want to do 😦

    Anyway – I have rambled enough. I am so sorry that this happened, and hope that you never encounter this hallion again!

  9. Michelle – I love your suggestion of saying ‘Can someone please help me?’ and yet it’s something I’d never have thought of in those circumstances. I will certainly bear it in mind should something like that happen ever again.

    I’m sad at the number of commenters who don’t feel able to challenge unacceptable behaviour, even by reporting it after the event. I completely understand not wanting to challenge some people face to face, but I worry that if people like the one Caroline encountered on the bus aren’t challenged we’ll end up with more people behaving like that and in more places.

    I think it’s a terratorial struggle in a way. The obnoxious intrusive behaviour lets them feel that they’re dominating the bus/train wherever and they get to feel important in some way. And I do wish we still had bus conductors, or train conductors who’d do something about this.

    *sigh*

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