lifestyle

If you'd witnessed this, would you have intervened?

By JESSICA BROADBENT

Recently, I was at Southern Cross station in Melbourne. From the platform I was on, I could see a young boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, making a bit of a fuss with his mother.

Then, it suddenly became much louder, attracting attention from everybody in earshot. I watched, separated by the railway tracks, as this young boy began to strike out at his mother, and to verbally abuse her. She held his arm firmly, trying to move him towards another area of the platform.

Off to the side, an older lady, perhaps the grandmother, waited, with a little girl in a pusher. They both seemed patient, resigned even. I averted my eyes, trying to give the family some privacy to deal with the meltdown.

But as I looked away, I wondered. I had no idea if the story I created in my head was true, or even close to being true. I was sure that the woman with him was his mother, and that he was simply overtired, or perhaps autistic, or had just had too much chocolate and was acting out – but how sure was I?

As I started to think about how to get involved, a station worker walked past me and we made eye contact. We exchanged cautious smiles and I even made a joke – that I was glad I wasn’t a parent. But I didn’t ask him to report it. I didn’t report it myself. I heard the announcement for my train and I stood up and got on it and rode away.

There have been a number of incidents recently which have been reported in the media and led people to wonder, “why didn’t someone intervene?”

Incidents such as Charles Saatchi’s abuse of Nigella Lawson, repeated abusive incidents on public transport and attempted abductions of children. But I don’t think it’s always as simple as “why didn’t someone intervene?” It’s about being prepared.

I’ve gotten involved before; in fact, my family has a long history of being the ones to get involved. I’m the one on public transport who tells people off when they’re smoking, who won’t stand for rude or racist remarks being made around me.

I think I get it from my parents – my Dad has intervened in public fights, stopped a woman from beating her little girl in public and been part of a group who kicked some teens off a crowded footy train, who were chroming (using inhalants) in front of kids; and my Mum has always taught us to stand up for ourselves if something isn’t right.

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French woman Fanny Desaintjores was racially abused on a Melbourne bus by these two men. No one intervened but a fellow passenger filmed the incident & uploaded to Youtube.

I’ve been involved in a violent incident before, when a school friend was beaten up at the train station. There were probably hundreds of us from the same school on the train and the platform, and certainly at least 20 of us who were nearby and friends with the victim.

Not one of us moved to help him. Afterwards, I was one of just a few to help clean him up, and the only one to make a statement to the police. I was proud to help him, and so ashamed I did nothing.

My Mum had a great conversation with me afterwards, about what I could have done – swung out with my bag, grabbed some of my friends to help. Luckily, I’ve never been in that situation again, but I haven’t forgotten her advice.

What stopped me this time? I have been thinking about it for weeks now, and I can’t put my finger on it. Even as I rode away, I saw a passenger on the other platform approach the older lady and strike up a conversation.

Could I have done that? Surely I should have decided not to worry about my train, and changed platforms and… What? Joined the conversation with the grandmother? Reported the foul language to station staff and asked that they call the police? Spoken to the mother and asked if she needed help? Spoken directly to the boy and asked what was going on, if he was being taken somewhere against his will by strangers?

Jessica Broadbent

I do think someone should have intervened in all the incidents I’ve mentioned. But the key thing is having a plan for what you are going to do. Sometimes, you don’t have to get directly involved; you can simply remove yourself from the situation and call Crime Stoppers or triple zero.

Other times, if you are part of a large group and know you have back-up, it might be appropriate to intervene more directly. And collecting evidence can be important too – taking photographs or video, whether obviously or more discretely is good.

But taking this step can’t be all you do – when you feel safer, either approach the person involved, the police when they arrive, or call Crime Stoppers and offer the images.

Remember, if you need Police, Fire or Ambulance, you should call 000. You can call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 if you want to make a report about something you’ve seen.

Jessica Broadbent is a former bookseller and trained librarian. She has just started a blog, What I Think About Books, and likes to read – can you tell? She also spends her days striving to be the best person she can be, to fulfil all the promises God contained within her, and to share joy with the world.

Do you have a plan for what to do if you witness a violent situation, or just an unpleasant situation? Have you spoken to your children about what they should do?

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