So much more to say, so little time. But I want to touch on being a bystander. I am so impressed by how brave Jackie Fuchs is in her telling of her rape, and admire how she had been speaking so empathetically about the bystanders who witnessed her rape. She is really steering the conversation away from blaming anyone but the rapist.
One time at The Strip, a rock club on 14th street that booked garage bands in the basement of an “old man bar”, there was talk that there was a naked lady lying on the floor upstairs in the “old man bar” part. You had to go up there to use the bathroom so when my friend and I went up the bathroom we did indeed see a woman lying on the floor in the corner with no clothes on. I have to say that it was a shocking and disorienting sight. I was probably 21 and I felt a sickening feeling as a witness but I had no idea that there was anything to do like cover her or get her help or ask the bartender what happened. The entire bar of old timers sat on their stools with their drinks, their backs to her, and acted like nothing strange was happening. The bar tender went on pouring drinks. We went downstairs shaken by the event but did the same thing as the old timers, nothing.
Another time I was on a hallucinogenic and I met a guy I liked at a party. We were talking and he soon he started to undress another guy who was passed out on the floor. He unbuttoned his pants and started to slide them off, all the time smiling. I went into freeze mode as in “Fight, Flight, or Freeze”. I could not wrap my head around what was happening. I was liking this guy and then everything changed so fast. Was he doing something funny? He was smiling but it did not feel funny. What the fuck was he doing? My girlfriend came over and pulled me away, mad, and told me not to stand by a guy doing that. Her action stopped the guy from continuing his undressing of the passed out guy. I felt awful, confused sickened.
Lastly, there was a time when, as a kid of about 8, an adult was starting to touch me inappropriately and he was with another kid who was part of his family. I managed to get up and get out of the situation but I never even thought about the other kid. I did not try to protect the other kid, I just got out of there, F L I G H T.
I regret all of these incidents where I could not take action and finally have empathy for my limited self. I tell these stories to say that I completely understand that some witnesses to Jackie’s rape just left horrified and some stayed and did nothing. Because there was danger, some were in flight and some were in freeze. Both are scary places because our survival instincts are overriding our rational brain. Seeing even a consenting act of sex, much less a rape, unexpectedly in a public setting would be disorienting and it would be really hard to get clarity on what exactly was going on especially if you are young and high or drinking. It takes a lot of awareness and confidence and strength to call out a rapist in their presence, or to interrupt a sex act.
We all get fuzzy in these situations we are not used to, like in disasters, or other dangerous incidents. People in survival mode or in shock get apathetic and mill around and it takes a leader to direct and motivate people to move towards survival. I wrote more about it here http://hollyramoswrites.blogspot.com/2015/03/thank-you-for-making-my-life.html
As an adult I have learned, intentionally through training, to step in when there is something bad going on. One thing they say is that you have to assume the leader role and delegate and that you have to look people in the eye and connect with them and tell them what to do. Once I saw a bad accident and I stepped in and delegated- you call the cops, you get ice.
Once I was in a cab accident and someone came over and told me what to do. They wrote down the cab’s info for me and said to go to the emergency room to make sure I was ok, and they said that the cab had to pay for it. I did what they said. I had been in shock and had no idea what to do and felt so appreciative so I always try to be a leader when I see a situation where someone may be disoriented. I always try to go over and help.
One time I saw someone in trouble at the gym and no one was stepping in. The person had wet them selves and was acting crazy, trying the machines incorrectly and flopping around. Some thing was wrong so I went to help them and they made a beeline to get in their car. When I got close I could smell alcohol really strong so I took their car keys. I honestly had no idea what to do. They were a stranger. But I had learned that that is what I was supposed to do, step in in such a situation, so I did. I told the security at the gym and gave them the keys and let them finish the job. It was scary and weird and really hard to take action.
I am fully aware that none of these examples are as extreme as a public rape. I just want to talk about it. Talking about it plants seeds of awareness that might sprout in an extreme situation. I hope that reading this blog is a little bit like doing a fire drill. If you are unable to stop a dangerous situation like rape, one person suggested that you can just say something like “Somebody in the other room just called the cops!” like you are giving a heads up, instead of intervening. And if you go into flight or freeze, please have a lot of empathy for yourself.