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?