There have been two high profile assaults against women in the news where I live in the past two weeks. The first, a rape in a very upscale part of Philadelphia, the city I live in. The second, a young mother beaten by a co-worker in front of her 2 year old son. Something struck me about both of these incidents; parts of both were recorded –people other than the victims and the offenders can be seen, not one person intervened.

In the grainy video of the assault near Rittenhouse Square in Center City Philadelphia, to be fair, there were not very many bystanders and it may have been unclear if the victim was able to display her distress. Yet, anyone who has ever been to the area knows it is very lively, especially on summer evenings near closing time, when the victim was walking home from a local bar. It is hard for me to believe that not one person saw that young woman and thought she may need some help.

In the video of an assault in Salem County, NJ, where my husband lived as a child and where some of his family still resides, a 26 year old mother was severely beaten in the face in front of her young child. In some articles, there were reports of some issues among the women, who were co-workers at the McDonald’s near where the assault took place. It is unfortunate those words came to blows, and it is horrendous that when the attacker clearly punches her victim unconscious, she continues to punch the victim in the face and then threatens the victim’s crying son. Yet the most terrible part of the 54 second recording, is that it was recorded, and posted, and not one person with a phone is calling the police. They stand there like voyeurs, using their phones to record the crime. Not one person comes to the aid of the victim. Not one person attempts to help the 2 year old child. They stand there and watch and do nothing.

This piece in no way seeks to minimize the offenders’ parts in these crimes. These assaults would not have occurred but for them. However, a bystander not intervening in a clear assault condones that assault and perpetuates further assaults. Think to one of Spiderman’s defining moments, when his refusal to intervene in a crime results in the death of his guardian, Uncle Ben. Stan Lee created that scenario, and Spiderman and many of his comics in fact, for a reason. To impart on people how important it is to be of assistance to your fellow man, and woman. Assisting each other is something we all must learn. Our humanity is at stake.

In early 2000, I was walking home north on 6th street late one night from a bar. It was around 2 am and I was very intoxicated. My friends asked me to wait for them; I insisted I would be fine on the nearly two mile walk back to the Gray’s Ferry house I then shared. The whole thing was very routine for me. Generally, I rode a bike or walked everywhere. As I continued walking towards Callowhill Street, I passed a man walking along a small side street. He looked at me in a way that was instantly frightening. At the time, I had some distance on him and I just kept walking.

The area around 6th and Callowhill is intensely busy and intensely solitary at the same time. It contains heavy traffic from bridges and highways, but the foot traffic is nearly non-existent. There are parking lots, some surrounded by bushes, and abandoned areas. I could hear the man I passed running behind me. After I turned to be sure it was he pursuing, I began to run, and panic. People were passing in cars, but no one would stop. I remember screaming for help, and looking every which way for places where I could be seen, where someone else would be, and I just kept running, but he was gaining on me.

Then suddenly, as I turned left off of 6th street, to avoid the dark underpass just ahead, I felt some one hook my arm at my elbow. It was a woman who was walking up Callowhill Street. She said, “Come with me, it’s going to be ok.” Then she turned me around and we walked in the direction of the man running after me, who by then was just feet from us. “Leave her the fuck alone!” Together, arm and arm, this woman and I walked right past that man. Our combined power was no match for him.

I do not know this woman’s name, I wish I did, I would scream it from the rooftops and whisper it along with my prayers. In so many ways, she saved my life. I have been in circumstances in my life where people stood by and watched while I was assaulted, so I know the rarity of this amazing woman. Yet, if there were more women, and men, like her the power of violent people would be reduced dramatically. In a world where we are all accountable for each other, we are less likely to be victim to one another.

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