The Not So Innocent By-Standers

posted in: WMATA | 14

I am 19 and a few weeks ago I was on my way to work carrying a copy of my photography portfolio. I was standing in the train listing to my music and zoning out. Suddenly a hand taps my portfolio, a man who looked to be in his early 40s/late 30s was talking to me. I couldn’t here him because of my earphones. I took one out and he asked “So whats this?” “my photo portfolio.” I said already starting to feeling uncomfortable. “I know” he said, “I’m a photographer as well.”

Then he started asking me questions a lot of questions on and on. I was sending him every leave me alone single i know. I didn’t make eye contact. I spoke in unfriendly tone. Then he started to ask me if i wanted to go to some museums with him. I said no. He said “oh come on it will be fun”
I said I was going to work. This whole time I had been looking around the train. It was very full. That was the worst part. Just next to us two men were sitting, they both look uncomfortable, they tried to smile at me, but they never said anything. Behind them there were more faces wearing the same awkward guilty expression. They were all listing. They could all here what was happening, but no one stood up. It was so embarrassing I wanted to cry. The man asked me for my number an email. I should have said no. I guess i was just in such shock as how clueless he was. I just made up random numbers and emails and got off the train.

All i could think about was the people watching me and wondering if they new the numbers were fake, or if they also though I was stupid enough to give my contact information away. I know I should be able to stand up for myself, but I cant help be angry at all these people just sitting there, listing and judging and not doing anything.

Submitted by Anonymous on 7/31/2010

Location: Red Line

Time of Harassment: Morning Rush Hour (5A-9:30A)

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14 Responses

  1. Dave

    What the hell were these people supposed to do? Stand up and yell and this guy for talking to a girl? He was trying to ask you out, not sexually harass you. Just because that made you embarrassed, doesn’t mean these people were wrong for not saying anything.

  2. Ali

    often enough, I’ve been in a position where someone won’t stop talking to me even if I’m being obviously curt, or if I’m trying to make it clear that I’m uncomfortable. and I always wish that any of the people watching me be hassled would help me out, because in situations like that, I just freeze.

    I would argue that, if she said ‘no’ to his invitation and he still wouldn’t leave her alone, that is in fact harassment.

  3. cathy

    well, dave, there’s lots of things people can do to help other people not be harassed or embarassed, like saying “excuse me miss, are you all right?” or even the less obvious striking of a conversation just to save her from the creep – “don’t i know your cousin from wisconsin?” and if she wants to escape her discomfort she can and if she doesn’t she won’t.

    asking someone out consists of a simple yes or no and after a no is giving any reasonable person backs off. further insistence on contact is a power play that has nothing to do with attraction to a woman and more to do with saving his own sense of superiority, making her give him information she clearly doesn’t want to give.

    if you’d like to know more about sexual harassment, dave, you can ask any woman over the age of 13 you’ve ever known.

  4. dancingyeti

    I’ve totally been in similar situations, wondering why no one stepped in to come to my aid. A particular incident on a bus, in which some strange guy berated me about my “homosexual tendencies,” comes to mind. After the fact, one of the bystanders even came up to me and offered platitudes (“Oh honey, you just have to ignore those people,” etc.). All I could think was, “Why the hell didn’t you say anything when I was being harrassed??”

    For what it’s worth, now I always try to intervene when someone is clearly a recipient of unwanted attention.

    • Golden Silence

      They don’t intervene out of fear, sadly. I cannot count the number of times I’ve stood up to harassers without people jumping in to have my back. They’ll give weak smiles or tell me to ignore it (like in your case), but they don’t have the strength to stand up to these people themselves.

      Bystander effect is the reason why I try my best to stand up for myself, as well as jump in to help others in need.

  5. Dave


    I understand what you are saying, and it would have been “nice” for someone to save her from this guy who was embarrassing her, but the title of the post “The Not So Innocent By-Standers” rubs me the wrong way. As if to say these people had a responsibility to bail her out of a conversation that made her feel embarrassed.

    Furthermore, I don’t want to know any more about sexual harassment at this time, since in this case we are not even talking about sexual harassment.

  6. Kevin

    I agree with Dave – what were they supposed to do? If I was riding the metro and I saw this happening, I wouldn’t want to risk getting into some altercation or escalating it by intervening. Not unless the woman was truly in danger. It sounds to me like the guy may have been a little clueless. He wasn’t picking up on your signals – that doesn’t make him a harasser. You could have been very clear with him if he was bothering you that much. If you hadn’t gone that far, probably the people watching assumed you had it under control. Personally, as a guy, I’d feel I was being insulting to a woman if I assumed she needed some big man to come in and stand up for her.

  7. LimitedLiabilityGirl

    Herein lies a lesson I’m particularly bad at learning: giving someone “signals” isn’t a very good way to protect yourself. You know and I know that they SHOULD “get it” when we’re cold and don’t make eye contact and minimize our answers, but you could not in a court of law (let’s just say) claim that you told him his behaviors were a problem. Because you didn’t.

    Been a long time since my college women’s self-defense course, but we were told to be polite but firm and clear. As in, “Excuse me, but you’re standing very close; would you mind backing up?”

    I’m a Midwesterner, we consider pretty much all distancing strategies to be impolite and it’s hard to overcome that when you come from a place where strangers hug you in public because they know your mom or whatever, but this is a useful skill!

  8. Steve

    Weren’t there any women present that could have come to this girl’s aid? Surely a woman watching this scene would have been much more sympathetic to the girl’s plight, and could have interjected with a “don’t I know your cousin from Wisconsin”?

  9. Scipio Africanus

    This post is essentially a call to chivalry. The young lady was uncomfortable, and by the ancient standards of chivalry, when something like that happens, it is the duty of the nearest man to reverse her discomfort. It doesn’t matter that the old guy wasn’t touching her, didn’t seem to be threatening her, or anything like that. She was uncomfortable, and chivalry holds that men should be responsible for any woman’s comfort.

  10. cathy

    aaaand this is the decline and fall of civility. why should someone risk an altercation if they witness someone else’s discomfort and, yes, VICTIMIZATION, but that person isn’t yet in physical danger?

    because it’s the right thing to do. humans help one another, it’s the basis for our success as a culture. the golden rule, do unto others, all that history of humanity.

    so why should you help someone who feels uncomfortable? because it’s the right thing to do. that man was purposefully making someone else uncomfortable. that much is clear. and that sort of behavior should not be tolerated.

    regardless of whether the OP could or should have done more to put the man off, he was in the wrong, not her. as were all the people who saw her discomfort, were themselves uncomfortable, and yet avoided confronting the problem.

    we can only blame ourselves, as a culture, when things go awry. and we can only look to ourselves to correct that culture. we’re all responsible for one another, whether we like it or not.

  11. Ali

    Steve, why is it only up to other women to protect each other? that seems to promote a very “us against them” mentality which I don’t think would be all that healthy as far as ending harassment goes…

  12. JRo

    How, exactly, were the “not so innocent bystanders” supposed to know you were in distress? Personally, I don’t spend my time on the Metro studying other people’s bodying or listening in on conversations. You know what they say about making assumptions, and I don’t think it’s safe to assume they could “all [hear] what was happening.” And if they did, how were they to know you didn’t welcome the attention?

    I’m with LLG. Next time, be clear and voice your feelings by saying “Leave me alone” rather than relying on your “unfriendly tone” to convey the message.

  13. sanbasl

    I really don’t see this as harassment. He was being friendly and was interested in you. GOD FORBID a guy strike up a conversation. If you dont want to be in the conversation, speak up.

    I see that he was older and probably should have known his place, but I really dont think he stepped over the line.

    Anon, how would you feel if he was closer to your age?