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Act or turn the other cheek? It's a modern dilemma

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Guy Smith | 15:38 UK time, Tuesday, 20 July 2010

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It's a shocking picture: a female passenger is waiting at a railway station just north of London. A man sitting next to her is banging a bottle against the bench. She asks him to stop.

And for that, she's followed and then attacked. She suffers a broken nose and serious facial bruising.

These CCTV pictures from the scene make uncomfortable viewing.

It's a dilemma.

Many of us have been in similar situations but may not have said anything. Only a few weeks ago, I was on a train to Slough and two passengers were sitting across the aisle with their dirty shoes on the seats.

A minor "offence" I appreciate but nonetheless irritating.

Should I have told them to do the right thing? Or stay quiet and accept selfish behaviour. To my shame and I hate to confess this but I did the latter.

Coward, I hear you cry. Others though may say it was an act of self-preservation.

The victim at Carpenders Park railway station is a 27-year-old professional dancer. The attack, which was in broad daylight, has left her traumatised.

She says: "After the incident I was very paranoid at home, I could not sleep and was worried about how to protect my 16-month old daughter."

"After an operation on my nose, I had to rely on family to care for my daughter as I was suffering from terrible headaches, which I still occasionally suffer. I still cannot feel the left-side of my nose either."

What would you have done? Would you have spoken up? Or just remained silent?


  • Comment number 1.

    Well, I once asked a group of teenagers to stop shouting to one another over my head as I am trying to read on the train.
    Obviously they reacted with lots of abuse.
    Predictably none of the fellow passengers spoke up which makes me think they don't mind such a behaviour but it makes it more difficult for me to react in the future knowing I will have no support. If there was more solidarity and united front it would make difference but if most people prefer to moan and do nothing then that's their choice...

  • Comment number 2.

    Donnaanna: I suspect you've hit the nail on the head. If more adults said no to bad behaviour then it wouldn't be so prevalent. But it takes courage and as you say confidence that other people will support you.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think there are two important criteria to consider when contemplating intervention. The first is the nature of the offence. People putting their dirty feet on train seats is as great an annoyance to me as it is to others, however I run it by the 'it's a free country' test before I decide whether it is sufficiently anti-social to warrant a stern word.
    Is the offender causing a real and present inconvenience to other passengers? Everyone is entitled to their own habits and opinions, within law, and it assumes quite a lot to say that my opinion, in any given situation, should be listened to by a complete stranger.
    Once you have decided that the offence is worthy of intervention, then the second consideration must be to the delivery. Supercilious attitudes are seldom well-received, and people often deliver what they consider to be a 'polite request', but which to practically everyone else sounds like mean-spirited nagging or busy-body interference.
    I have intervened when passing a group of youngsters setting fire to a rubbish bin. I chose to deliver instructions to the lads in a stern and unequivocal way. Being on my own and somewhat out-numbered, it was not the time for meek requests. In other situations I might have chosen a more conciliatory approach. Like any form of engagement, you have to consider your audience and play to your strengths.

  • Comment number 4.

    We've just had two weeks in Japan. Th way people behave here in England is disgusting, even primitive. People in Japan obey the laws and wouldn't dream of being anti-social. There are very few litter bins, so people take their litter home. There is no dog-mess. No yobbish behaviour. People don't yell into mobile phones. My way of living is to question my actions before making them, to assess the impact on others. Why can't we be civil? Why can't we use the law for three months hard shock, to curtail anti-social behaviour. The Japanes didn't seem persecuted or losing their human rights. Disagree with all thi? Then you are one of the ones we are complaining about.

  • Comment number 5.

    MARTINAL2 really good point. People have just completely lost the ability to think before they act.

    I'm sick to the back teeth of seeing people throw their litter out of car windows, blast their awful music out of phones on the busses, put their feet up on trains and just generally make life unpleasent for the rest of us.

    If I can throw my litter in the bin (or put it in my bag until I find one), keep my feet and music to myself and be polite to people, why can't others?

  • Comment number 6.

    It really depends on the situation. If I'm on my own with no-one around me - as in the above incident - I wouldn't say anything. I've seen and read about too many events like this happening, and being a single female who often goes out by myself, I wouldn't put myselt in a situation where I could be alone with a man who shows signs of being potentially aggressive.

    On the other hand, if I'm with friends, or in a crowded area, then I have no hesitation of standing up for myself. I have intervened with drunk guys trying to pick fights with my friends or other people nearby, and have been involved in a couple of incidents on buses with both men and women being anti-social and annoying to other passengers.
    It really is a case of thinking before you act and judging whether you're safe to speak up - I will always think about myself before intervening with any incident.

    I hope the man responsible for this sickening attack has been identified and dealt with severely, but I don't have all that much faith to be honest...

  • Comment number 7.

    I've been thinking about this some more. By the time this page is closed, perhaps 500 people will have contributed, mostly moaning about anti-social behaviour.

    I wonder, of those 500, how many drive too fast, park illegally, go into lifts after smoking, fail to put down paper before making a half-hearted attempt to clear up after their dog, cycle on pavements, spit, text while walking, yell into mobile phones, hang out on street corners in rowdy mobs etc.

    They are all anti-social behaviour folks, lets put an end to them all NOW.

  • Comment number 8.

    Martinal's Japan example is apples compared to the UK's oranges. Japan has a much more rigid social structure (some would say stifling) culture, where there is social pressure to conform. The UK is almost the opposite, so let's focus only on the UK, shall we?

    I think another factor to consider is that in a crowd of people where one or two people act up, the majority of people in that crowd don't do anything because they expect someone else to say something or do something to correct the situation so that they don't feel that they have to. The smaller the crowd, the more likely someone will say something.

  • Comment number 9.

    We need a more rigid social structure (some would say stifling) culture, where there is social pressure to conform. Walk along any high street and try to pass a bus stop. It's like the last ten minutes of happyhour at a camel wash. Endless zombies standing in the way, texting or yelling into their phones while the think the rest of the universe rotates around them.

    Japanese school children are immaculately turned out, and actually look happy, with chipless shoulders. English children, with ragged ties and shirts hanging out look disgraceful bu comparison.

    We need social pressure to conform. The more you differ from the norm, what is called bell-curve distribution, the less rights you should have. Fit in or flit off.

  • Comment number 10.

    Just like to throw my story into the mix. I was sat on a train once, aged about 19, wearing a hoodie with the hood up and having my feet up on the seat opposite. A man walking down the aisle stopped, told me I was a disgrace and to put my feet down and grow up. Hooray I hear many of you folks cry! However, at the time I had just left my boyfriend who I wasn't going to see for another month which is why I had my hood over my face so people couldn't see me cry. I was also suffering from crippling period pains, which I can only alleviate by raising my legs higher than my tummy.

    Ok, I did as I was asked to by the chap, and I accept not all anti-social behaviour can be explained as any other way than exactly that...anti-social. I would just like to point out though, sometimes there is more to a tale than people being inconsiderate. Respect goes two ways; the chap clearly thought I was a yob - had he been more thoughtful towards people, he would not have automatically classed me as such.

  • Comment number 11.

    Martinal's solution smacks of repression. It has worked in the past in other countries where the government lays down what they expect of their citizens, and sever punishment if they don't conform. I'm not prepared to give up my civil liberties to solve this issue.

    Martinal also generalises too much. The Japan comparison is irrelevant, as I pointed out in a previous post (apples and oranges), and here in England, it's not even 25% as bad as the poster makes the situation out to be. The situations in the article happen often enough for me to notice, but there is no quick fix solution to this. The Government can encourage (not dictate) ideals for a better society through ads and through the schools, and through enforcement of existing laws, but that sort of change can't be forced.

  • Comment number 12.

    There is an argument here (especially in a city like London) that says that it's important to be street wise.

    I've stood up to anti-social behaviour a few times (littering, noisy neighbours etc) but it's about picking your targets and deciding how to approach each situation. Of course it helps that I'm a 6 foot shaven headed male (for some reason) but I'm still careful of how I deal with these kind of people.

    If I'm a lone woman asking a man (who obviously doesn't care how annoying he is being) to curb his behaviour, that's taking a big risk. That doesn't justify his response of course but I wondered what others thought of my point.

  • Comment number 13.

    Christian Lefferty from Hertford just emailed me and wanted to share this with you:
    "Last March I was assaulted on a train at Enfield Lock after asking a fellow passenger why he felt it necessary to call me the 'c-word'. He immediately flared-up and proceeded with a prolonged verbal and physical assault on me which ended with him trying to drag me off the train by my coat so that I could, "have my XXXXX head stamped on by six XXXXX boots." (Edited swear words out)

    Despite my lack of retaliation and continued apologies, the situation got pretty nasty, especially when his friends decided to join in. All of this time my fellow passengers did nothing to help me (this was in a busy carriage).

    Fortunately, the offender managed to separate himself from his friends, as he was too busy attacking me to notice that the doors were closing. This gave me an opportunity to telephone the police. Since I didn't know where I was I had to ask the rest of the carriage. Nobody had the courage to answer my question, even though the worst of the situation had passed and I had the police on the phone. Amazingly, it was the offender that offered up the information, smugly replying that Waltham Cross was the next stop.

    Despite there being at least two security cameras on the train, the police could not come up with the footage. They blamed the train company for not maintaining the cameras. As a result of this, the offender has nothing to fear from the police. Perhaps he knew this when he helped to give away his location.

    Unfortunately, it is quite apparent to me that most of the police's resources are tied up making victim support calls and undertaking crime surveys. Perhaps they should be concentrating on fixing train security cameras instead?

    I hope that your coverage helps to catch the person responsible for the Carpenders Park incident."

  • Comment number 14.

    First rule: don't get involved in situations you can't handle. Qualifying yourself as a target is rather useless.
    On the other hand, anti-social behaviour won't be stopped by a private citizen talking sternly to some social deviant. So, in my opinion, no one should feel guilty if he doesn't.
    I think it's more a question of values, which this society is losing more and more. I'm not suggesting remedies, being such a hard issue: but it's about society on his whole that they should be searched. And, please note, there could be no real solution at all.
    Anyway, I wish to express my absolute disgust for such a coward attack.


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