My coworker (Bill Arnold) and I have been working on being more effective bystanders for over a year now. We have facilitated trainings, spoken one-on-one with people who want to know how to help those around them, and even told our own stories to veritable strangers. Perhaps one of the most important things to remember about being an active bystander is to do what you can when you can. I want to share the story of a time when I decided that I was able to offer to help a woman on Court Street.
This past summer, my partner and I were out celebrating his birthday. On our way home from the bars on Court Street, I felt a woman bump past me as she was briskly walking in the opposite direction. A man was following her and repeatedly tried to grab her arm, telling her to stop. She yelled “get off of me” and “go away!” I felt a pull to do something, to say something, to help her in some way. I told my partner to wait a minute and then went back to the girl, happily squealing “Hey Ashley!” I had just invented that name on the spot. “How are you? I haven’t seen you in so long! Come and get a drink with us so we can catch up.” Not surprisingly, she looked confused.
A few seconds later, a look of dawning comprehension crossed her face. She understood that I was trying to give her an excuse to get away from a guy who would not leave her alone. At this point, she thanked me and told me that the man who was following her was, in fact, her ex-boyfriend. They were simply having a post-breakup argument. She was grateful that someone had stopped to make sure that she was okay and offer her a means of escape in case she had been in a terrible situation. Surprisingly, her ex-boyfriend also thanked me for taking the time to stop and make sure that she was alright.
Of course, the situation was mildly embarrassing and I felt a bit sheepish about having interrupted a dispute. But it is important to remember that the next time I run into someone who looks like they are in need of help, they may truly need someone to just stop and ask if they are okay. I will try my best to be aware of those around me in case someone is in need.
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Ohio University Women’s Center Staff