I thought that I had finished writing idle rants, I was going to take the section off this blog. But last night on my way home from work, I witnessed an assault. The only thing I feel I can do to ‘help’ the victim, and process what I witnessed, is to write about it. I want some answers.
My commute to and from work is part of my day that I enjoy, I walk through my local park and medieval streets, I amble through Oxford, and I get to people watch and read on the train. My personal safety is something that I consider when walking alone, so I change routes in winter and have always called a taxi rather than walk through dark streets late at night, because it’s sensible. But if I do need help people will come to my aid, right?
Last night at 6.30pm I was waiting on the platform at Oxford station, sitting on a bench and scrolling through my phone when I heard screaming. Loud, not having fun, screaming. A train was sitting at the opposite platform and was blocking my view, but someone was clearly being attacked. The woman on the bench next to me exclaimed as the train pulled away and we saw what was happening. A man was punching and kicking a woman who was lying on the platform, crying and screaming for someone to help her.
Four First Great Western station staff were standing about three feet away, watching them. This had been going on for some minutes and had I been on the platform I would have shouted at the staff to help her. The only thing one of the members of staff did was to ask the victim, “Is this a domestic?” She couldn’t answer, she was being assaulted. He asked her again, louder. “Is this a domestic, do you know him?”
The assailant kicked at her torso.
“Are you with him?” The staff member asked again, as the four of them stood watching.
She managed to shout no.
The assailant grabbed his bag and marched off down the platform towards the station exit. The staff members followed.
Meanwhile, three women (I think station staff, I’m not sure) who had been watching, horrified like the rest of us, scooped the woman over to them and asked her questions. They also exclaimed about why the group of FGW staff had not attempted to intervene, or call the police straight away. They asked her if she knew him, and yes of course she did, he was her ex-partner. Statistically, it was highly unlikely that he was going to be a complete stranger.
I’ve witnessed crime before, I lived in London long enough to see the odd punch up and teenagers throwing a boy onto the Underground tracks in the midst of a brawl (thankfully he was off the track before the train came). So, you know, these things happen and we all carry on with our day.
BUT, whenever I’ve witnessed anything before, people helped. They rang the police, they shouted, they intervened. Those crimes were different, they weren’t a woman being beaten-up by her (ex-)partner. Why didn’t those four, burly station staff do anything? Why did they have to know if she knew him or not? What difference does that make? She was being attacked, it needed to stop. They did nothing.
And before the train company gives me a shovel-load of proverbial about the ‘health and safety’ of their staff, don’t tell me they aren’t trained to deal with aggressive passengers, or trained in calling the police, handling incidents etc, etc.
My commute to work is a part of my day that I enjoy, my personal safety is something I’ll think a lot more about. Because if someone does attack me, the four men watching will want to know if it’s my ‘fault’ for having had a relationship with the assailant, before they all walk off and leave me crying on the ground.