This post is about a rather unsavoury experience I had a few weeks ago. I witnessed a man beating up a woman on a cold, wet night in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I was with a group of colleagues on a night out, having just left a restaurant. We intervened.
But the question I keep on asking myself is, “did I do the right thing?”
We all walked away unharmed, no punches were thrown, nobody was injured (except the female victim). Was that the right result? Could it / should it have been different?
On the one hand, I am disappointed in myself because I didn’t whack the guy who was kicking his ‘girlfriend’ in the back after he had thrown her on the floor.
On the other hand I am glad that I did not antagonise the situation by reacting to verbal taunts, no matter how tempted I was to call the guy’s bluff, “…I will knock your £%&$!”* lights out!” (swear word redacted).
Here is the situation in full. I would appreciate your thoughts and comments. How would you have handled it? What would you have done differently?
Did I do the right thing?
It was night out at a Spanish restaurant in the city centre a few weeks ago, drinking a few drinks and sampling some lovely tapas. By the time we finished the meal it was 11:30pm. There were 5 of us (3 men and 2 women), and we stepped out of the restaurant on to a cold and rainy cobbled street, agreeing to one last drink at a bar on the other side of the street – literally, 10 metres away.
It was then that we saw them.
A couple staggering up the street, linked closely together, arguing in hushed-shouting growling tones. My spider senses were on alert – something was wrong. I took my hands out of my jacket pockets and did not let my eyes off the couple.
I am guessing they were late teens, early 20’s. He was dressed in trousers and a t-shirt, about 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm), skinny. She was about 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm), dressed to the nines like girls in Newcastle like to do, in a pretty blue dress and high heels. She was crying. The guy was frog marching her up the road and she was struggling to get free.
As they passed us, the girl took off her stilettos and whacked her boyfriend with one of them. At this point we were about 5 metres from the couple. I kept watching.
The guy then reaches down and picks the woman up by her legs and body, slamming her on the floor. If that wasn’t enough he then takes a running kick at her back.
This is the point where we intervened, “Oiy, you, get off her!”
It all happened so quickly but we rushed towards the couple. My colleague shouting at him to stop (which he did) and one of my other colleagues called the police. My heart was in my mouth.
Then it gets strange.
Firstly the girl (the victim) on seeing several men approach, jumps up to protect her man (the aggressor). She turns from fragile victim to valiant protector in a split second. She declines all offer of help from us and starts pleading with her boyfriend to go home.
Secondly, another guy appears on the scene claiming to be the cousin of the aggressor. He was protecting the aggressor. It seemed like he was waiting in the distance and then all of sudden appears out of nowhere.
Now that the cousin was there, the guy who was beating his girlfriend starts to mouth off to us that he was “going to knock us all out”.
“…all of ya. Each and every one of yuz…” Picture very drunk Geordie with a bad hair cut, spewing actor-plasm each time he shouted. Lovely man.
By this time I had guessed he was not ever going to throw a punch. I know this because whilst he was shouting “I am going to knock you out…all of ya!”, he kept on jumping randomly ‘at’ us, arms flailing in the air, whilst conveniently placing himself behind his cousin.
Well I was stood front and centre next to my colleague who was doing most of the
shouting talking. My colleague was trying to diffuse the situation through the cousin. I was stood right by his side ready to react to any punch or physical attack. I did not say a word the entire time. My chin was locked slightly down, my eyes were wide and my hands were open. All I was focussed on was any intention to strike. I was continuously looking at the aggressors and my colleagues. I was super ready. It was like I was waiting for a bunkai attack. Just like we do in the dojo. Defense, then attack. Defense then attack.
But then his since up to now mild-mannered cousin starts getting aggressive, too. He was quite short in stature but claimed to be a bouncer, and starts to pick on one of my male colleagues for no reason.
Looking back I think he saw an opportunity to deflect our attention away from the girl and guy by causing a mini fracas. He picked on my colleague because he was an easy target – he had his hands in his jacket pockets and kept them in his pockets even when being screamed at nose-to-nose.
Personally I would advise taking your hands out of your pockets if there is the slightest hint of danger.
The boyfriend (aggressor, whatever you want to call him) wanders off with his girlfriend whilst his cousin carries on with his ‘hot air’ distraction by threatening our colleague. Lots of chest sticking out from him and hands by his sides, chin out. I’ve never understood that aggressive approach – it seems totally pointless and vulnerable. Wim talks about it in his blog – explaining how that reaction is hard-wired into us, but very stupid nonetheless. Anyway, whilst my hands-in-his-pockets colleague was taking an ear bashing, the couple we intervened in the first place had disappeared.
Then it all died down. The cousin calmed down and calls for back up. That’s our cue to leave.
We went to the bar and cooled down with a couple of drinks.
…and whilst the adrenaline seeps slowly away, the thinking begins.
I’ve thought a lot about this incident and what I could have / should have done. Here are my questions:
- Why did the girl protect her oppressor? From friends I’ve spoken to this is classic behaviour from someone who is the victim of domestic violence. Is that right?
I have now educated myself through some excellent blogs on domestic violence, the best of which is Prego and the Loon. Thank you for your blog! I realise now that the girl probably loved the guy: in that instant, she was protecting the one she loved, regardless of the fact she had just taken a beating from him.
- The cousin was just deflecting our attention: that was clear. Do you think he was in the background the whole time, checking on his cousin? Was he complicit in the girlfriend-beating? Is that common?
- Neither of the two guys were ever going to throw a punch. But should I have thrown one? I so, so wanted to. It is my deepest regret, that the guy who dished out the beating didn’t get a taste of his own medicine. What would you have done?
There are so many what ifs. What if the guy or his cousin had a weapon? What if I had thrown a punch and injured one of the guys? What if their back-up had turned up?
I had had a few drinks that night. What if my judgement was impaired? What if I had made the wrong call?
With great power comes great responsibility – but I am struggling to define the terms of my responsibility in this situation.
Your thoughts and comments on this blog post would be extraordinarily welcome.