I'd like to think that we all haven't been there. Witnessing a nasty scene on the Tube where someone is getting attacked or harrassed and deciding what to do. BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine was interviewed by Radio 4 about how he witnessed a man getting beaten up on the London Underground and he and fellow passengers did nothing:
He said: "I was sitting in a Tube carriage next to an attractive young woman who was reading a magazine. There was a guy sitting opposite me, who was kind of Neanderthal. He had obviously taken an interest in this woman" After all the usual, 'come on darlin' give us a smile' rubbish, he started tapping her on the knee. Eventually he got off the Tube and the carriage collectively gave a sigh of relief. One passenger also gave him a V sign when the doors closed and unluckily for the passenger the doors decided to re-open.
"The thug runs back in. He's six foot three, his muscles are so big they're flexing against the Tube glass, and he just starts beating seven bells out of this fellow.
"And I did nothing. The carriage was pretty full. But none of us did anything. It was terrible...... It wasn't fight or flight, it was fight or sit there and watch. And I chose to sit there and watch. And I've replayed it many many times. I'm very unhappy that I did that, and I now have sort of resolved that if I see a similar kind of situation where I see someone being attacked like that, I will intervene with unmitigated ferocity.
"I was sitting there and I had a biography of Oscar Wilde and it's about 700 pages. I reckoned that this biography would have made a serious dent in his skull and also that it would have been a classy way to bring this guy down to the Tube floor, but of course as I have all these thoughts it's already too late. In fact the moment you think about it, it's too late."
I'm not too surprised that no one did anything. The closest I've been to this situation since blogging, is when I was getting hassled by some drunk on a Tube and most of the people sitting near me chose to get off at the next stop. Fortunately, I sat it out through bloody mindedness and I was lucky that he wasn't violent. I've no idea what I would do if the boot were on the other foot though. I certainly wouldn't have left the carriage as just a physical show of numbers can help.
But in the case of someone getting physically attacked, I'd like to think I'd intervene or at least shout at the person. I'm sure most people hope that someone else will be brave enough to do something (it's almost like giving up seats to people who need them - although they doesn't require bravery). As Vine says by doing nothing we're giving trouble makers permission to continue. He later found out on a bus journey that if one person stands up, others will usually follow suit.
Has anyone else been in a similar situation on the Tube or public transport? Or do you have any advice on what you could do to defuse a situation like this?