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Bystanders ignore woman’s plea during attack

After no one came to a woman
After no one came to a woman's aid when she cried out for help while being attacked in Cook Street Village, some are left wondering what it will take to make people to stand up.
— image credit: Mary Ellen Green

A woman was stunned to the ground this week. Not just because a stranger attacked her, leaving her with bruises and scraped confidence, but mostly because, despite dozens of bystanders nearby, no one came to her aid.

The Fairfield resident, who is in her 50s and has asked to only be called Janine, was walking through Cook Street Village on Monday, June 13, around 10 a.m., when a woman passed her and began making derogatory comments, then hit Janine on the shoulder. Janine quickly walked away in an effort not to engage the woman further, but the woman followed her, muttering swear words under her breath.

By the time Janine had reached her front door, she didn’t see the woman anywhere, and searched to find her keys. Then the woman leapt on her from behind, grabbing at Janine’s arm and backpack, and yelling at her.

“I knew it was best to not make eye-contact or fight back because I had determined the person was totally irrational,” says Janine. “My intent was to get myself in a populated area … I was about 25 feet from an intersection when I started really being jerked around physically and I felt full-fledged fear. I started screaming, ‘please help me! help me! help me!’”

Despite a handful of people walking in Cook Street Village at the time, including five or six sitting at a café and one city vehicle driving past, no one stopped to help.

“I felt totally terrified. There were people walking and sitting, but no one budged, although all heads were turned in my direction,” says Janine.

Finally, two cyclists stopped and distracted the woman while encircling Janine. Police were called, and the woman was taken away.

“I would still like to think that Victoria is a safe place, but all it takes is to be attacked once and the fear creeps in,” says Janine. “Every time a person approaches me now, my body is on high alert.”

Citizen involvement has been highlighted recently with the Vancouver riot, where individuals willing to stand against violence were met with more.

Lorna Hillman, executive director of Greater Victoria Police Victim Services, says it’s natural that people don’t want to risk their own safety.

“Often, people are afraid themselves, they don’t want to get hurt either, and that’s understandable, but this hesitancy to help is something worth examining in our society,” she says. “It can wind up making someone feel doubly victimized, when no one is willing to step in.”

Hillman says the most important thing any bystander can do is not assume someone else has taken care of things.

“Even if it’s too threatening to approach the situation, take some notes so you can give the police a description of what the offender is wearing, and what happened, and call 911 — it’s way better to receive 10 calls than none at all,” Hillman says. “You can also let the victim and perpetrator know someone is watching by yelling, ‘We’re calling the police!’”

Janine says, after this, she’ll be sure to hang around if she ever witnesses an altercation. Mostly, she hopes people will realize it’s better to be active than apathetic.

“If [bystanders] had read in the paper that a woman was hospitalized that day, would they not feel guilty?” says Janine. “What if it was their mother, daughter, sister ... wouldn’t they want someone to do something? I think we all would.”  M

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