“How CASS Taught Me to Intervene When I Saw a Stranger Hit a Woman”

"How Collective Action for Safe Spaces Taught Me to Intervene When I Saw a Stranger Hit a Woman"

By Ramin Katirai 

A weekday morning this fall, I was walking back from the mailbox in DC’s Shaw neighborhood when I heard a woman yelling at this dude. At first I couldn’t understand what they were saying, so I slowed down walking and started to listen and watch. He was yelling something like “baby sister baby sister” while holding up his phone. She was screaming, “NO! STOP! GET AWAY FROM ME!”  An old man was walking his dog nearby, but he kinda just walked away as the situation intensified. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen people choose to ignore rather than intervene in a situation. I was about half a block away at this point.

Then, he hit her. He hit her on the top left of her forehead, with a right-handed swing.

I yelled “HEY, YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” as I ran top speed at the guy. In the seconds I started running, he started running. As I got closer to the woman, I was torn about whether or not to chase this guy down. I could have. I wanted to. I run, I lift. I wanted to catch him and smash him. Or at least yell and follow him until we crossed paths with a police officer or someone who would help.

In Shaw, the police presence has skyrocketed. But I couldn’t keep running because I had to stop to see how the woman was doing. I pulled out my phone to dial 911. The 911 response was immediate, and I had to speak to the dispatcher as I watched my enemy escape. I asked the woman if she was ok and started telling the dispatcher where exactly the guy was going as fast as I could. I asked her if she wanted to speak directly to the dispatcher, and she said yes and took the phone to describe the situation:

She was followed by this stranger in the metro station, and he tried to look up her skirt on the escalator. She tried to quickly get away from him, but he continued following her, making a crude comment. After she yelled at him to get away from her, he spit on her and hit her.

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The whole time I’m thinking, “Why did we call the police? I should have chased him. This is so slow; the response is too slow. They should be here. They should be chasing him.”

She mentioned she worked nearby, so I asked if she wanted to walk to her office. She said yes, and we walked over together. She finished her call with the police. I sat, she stood. She tried to say she wasn’t wearing that short a skirt, but I said that wasn’t the problem. That it was that guy, not her. That it was about him wanting power…but then I was talking too much when I knew I should be listening. So I listened, and then repeated that it was not her fault.

I felt sad that she was sort of blaming herself.

I told her, “You did everything you could.”

I explained that my wife works for Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), a group that works to end public sexual harassment and assault in DC, including by teaching bystander intervention methods. An officer showed up with an SUV. She listened to the description of the perpetrator that the woman had to repeat so many times. Quickly, the officer went off in the direction that the man ran off in.

A second officer called an ambulance because the woman had a nasty goose-egg bump on her forehead. Her coworkers also showed up. They were surprised that this could happen to her. They said, “she’s a tough lady.” Another co-worker said, “all this so early?” I replied, “It happens all the time, everywhere…”  While she was being treated, I asked if it was cool if I went home to get some CASS materials.  I brought back CASS info and a business card with my phone number and email.

A woman in a car near by said she heard the whole thing and saw me run. She said, “good job,” and I couldn’t hold back the tears. I felt so bad for the victim and wish I had ran after that asshole. I hope they catch him.

Ramin Katirai is a a life-long DC metro resident and a Shaw resident for the past five years.

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