If You See Something, Say Something

If you see something, say something.  Homeland Security has used this phrase to help combat terrorism, but it has value in other circumstances, too. They were the words going through my head when I saw a man yelling at a woman last week.

Angry Man Pointing Finger
Angry Man by Ashish Choudhary via Pixabay (CC0)

I had just left the Martin Luther King Library that is on the San Jose State University campus. As I stepped into the forecourt the loud argument caught my attention right away, but I kept on walking. It wasn’t really an argument so much as it was a man berating a woman. They were both young and wearing backpacks, so were probably students. They also appeared to be of South Asian origin, and the yelling was not in English so I don’t know what was being said. Anyway, I wasn’t sure if I should do something about it or not.

Recently I saw this cartoon message that encourages us to engage with someone who is being harassed or maligned in some way, and I wondered if this was one of those occasions.

What to do if you are witnessing Islamophobic harassment
by Maeril  via The Middle Eastern Feminist.

I decided to weigh up the situation for a few minutes and so I sat on a bench where I could see the couple. The woman was looking directly at the man, but most of the time not saying anything. The man’s voice continued to be loud and he seemed very angry, gesturing towards the woman with a pen (or something of similar size) and jabbing it at her chest. All around us, though, were people coming and going and sitting on benches and none of them seemed to think this was anything they needed to be concerned about.

Woman crying
Woman crying via Wikimedia Commons

Twice I saw the woman start to walk away but she was stopped by the man who, apparently, wasn’t finished yelling yet. By this time, I was afraid of him myself and thought that if I intervened he might turn on me.  I didn’t want to make the situation worse than it already was, and I didn’t want to put myself at risk. After the woman had tried and failed to walk away for a third time, I knew I had to do something.

I thought that if I continued walking through the campus to the nearest street I might see a security guard or a police officer. When I got to the street, though, it dawned on me that there were probably security personnel in the library. So, I went back up to the library and explained the situation to the assistant who was at the counter. Before I even finished explaining, she was on her feet and heading to find a security guard.

I gave a brief description of the couple and where they were located, and then I left. I figured I had done all I could.  But, as I walked home I was annoyed with myself.  I had not intervened personally, and I wished I had. I need to come up with a potential script in case I ever come across a similar situation in the future. I also need to be less afraid of loud angry people, but that will take a lot longer.




  1. Tough call. I may have been equally as hesitant. But you were probably correct in your belief that he was very likely having a go.
    Maybe I would have caught the attention of a fellow passerby, and nodded toward the woman, who sounds like she was in distress and then suggested we both go over … strength in numbers and what have you?
    But it is easy to conjure up the perfect scenario in hindsight, so under the stressful circumstances you did the right thing as he may well have become a lot more aggressive and who knows where that might have led to?

          1. One has to presume that Security dealt with it.
            And if they confronted him they would have been recognized as security immediately and trained to deal with such.
            You may have simply been regarded as an interfering busy body and he may have lashed out.
            What’s sad is that the poor woman, whoever she was, wife, sister, girlfriend, was probably used to this sort of haranguing.
            One can only hope she was able to extricate herself.

  2. That is such a tough situation. I have known someone personally who intervened when at a service station where a man was physically abusing his wife and they both turned on him, beat him up and called the police on HIM. You did the right thing. You cared. A little live goes a long way.

  3. A great solution that someone did for me recently – a man was giving me unwanted attention. I was trying to be polite but he insisted on singing to me and he took hold of my wrists. I wasn’t afraid yet as it was very public (on a beach) but I was very uncomfortable. A woman came over and asked if he could take her picture (we all have camera phones these days). he turned to her and I left. Later I ran into the woman and she had devised the picture taking idea to help me out.

    1. What a great idea! I am so glad that such a kind and creative stranger was there for you. It was also very perceptive of her to realize your discomfort. I will remember this in case I should ever come across a similar situation. Thank you for sharing it with me.

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