What should you do if you see a woman or child you don’t know being attacked by a grown man?
My gut reaction is to step in and stop him. But as hard as it may be to accept, that might not be the best move.
The first priority in self defense is to avoid getting injured or killed, and if you have a wife, husband, and/or children, you have even more on the line. Maybe you don’t see a weapon, but that doesn’t mean the attacker doesn’t have one. Maybe you move to stop a man from beating a child and he turns around and shoots or stabs you. How smart is it to risk your life for someone you don’t know, particularly if you have a family to take care of?
In 2002 my wife and I were at a hill tribe market in a remote part of northern Vietnam. We were the only foreigners there. We turned a corner and saw a man beating a woman, with a small crowd circling them. The woman was bleeding, and the man kept punching her. I really wanted to step in and nail the guy, but I had no idea what would happen if I did. Would the crowd of people attack me? There were sharp farming tools on the ground all over the market. I could have been swarmed and killed. Or, I could have ended up in a Vietnamese jail. What would have happened to my wife? As hard as it was, I think I made the right decision…to walk on.
On another occasion my wife and I had a couple of friends over to watch a movie at our house. During the movie we heard a woman screaming outside. We went to the window and a man was chasing a woman around a car parked in front of our house. My wife ran to the phone to call the police, but as soon as she picked it up the man jumped across the hood of the car, grabbed the woman, and put her in a rear choke hold, choking her. Without thinking, I went straight out the front door, moving to stop the guy. It was dark, and I had no idea if the guy had a weapon. I went outside so quickly that I didn’t even consider grabbing a weapon myself. Fortunately, as I got close to the guy he let go of the woman and she ran away. He turned and walked away too. I got lucky. When I came back in my wife asked me if I was crazy. I made a mistake. Although what I did was perhaps normal and definitely understandable, in my neighborhood it could have easily resulted in me getting shot.
Yesterday a good friend of mine emailed me and told me about a situation that had just occurred. His brother stopped a driver (with a passenger) from driving away after hitting a parked car. The driver got mad, the situation escalated, and he grabbed my friend by the shirt and attempted to hit him. My friend hit him first and dropped him. But then the passenger had grabbed my friend from behind, trying to hit him. This continued for a bit, with my friend fortunately getting the better of the situation. But it could have easily gone another way. The passenger could have stabbed my friend in the back. Would it have been worth it, to potentially stop someone from getting away with a hit and run?
So I decided to write this post. These situations are never easy. What you should do isn’t always obvious. But my rule of thumb now is: Don’t get involved. You’re not the police (most of you, at least). If you or someone you care about isn’t being injured, call the police. Maybe say out loud that the police are on their way.
It may feel wrong to stand by while someone attacks a smaller or weaker person, and some people may be unable to do that, but you have to consider the consequences of getting involved for those who depend on you. If you do decide to get involved, you should do everything you can to accurately assess the situation first, and to minimize the damage you do.
If you come upon a situation where someone is doing something wrong, like a hit and run on a parked car, but no one is actually in danger, you definitely shouldn’t get involved. You’re not the police, and it’s none of your business. Don’t put yourself in danger.
This is a controversial topic, such situations are rarely simple, and different people will disagree on what should or shouldn’t be done. What’s most important is that you realize the pros and cons of getting involved. Think about it now, rather than acting without having thought about it before. Think about what you have to lose, what you would be risking, and when you are willing to take such risks. Let me know what you think about this in the comments.
What would you advise people if your wife or sister or child was being attacked ? ( assuming you are not anywhere near the scene)
“Do not get involved?”
Thats what most people do anyway so you don’t need to teach them that!
It would have helped if someone gave us tips on how we could intervene with maximum benefit and minimum risk as a bystander, for e.g in the first 2 situations. ( But I guess we are talking about “self defence” here and not “bystander intervention” )
In a hit and run I would only note down the number of the car if possible and spend time in helping the victim by calling ambulance/ police/first aid etc rather than chasing the car driver.
Its a matter of what one would do on the spur of the moment. Not always predictable. There is only a thin line between a fool(hardy) and a hero. But I have respect for both as they die only once. Others die a thousand times!
“What would you advise people if your wife or sister or child was being attacked?”
In that situation, I would most definitely advise people to act.
“It would have helped if someone gave us tips on how we could intervene with maximum benefit and minimum risk as a bystander, for e.g in the first 2 situations.”
Good point. I’ll save that for the next post. 🙂
To me it’s just like trying to cross a 4 lane highway to get to the other side, because it is a short cut to get home, then going another 10 miles to the off ramp the safe way. You will be taking a big chance with your life. Now if I was looking at someone hurting my family member, I will do everything I can to put hurting on the bad guys and hope I will not get kill or end up in a wheel chair.
This is a very controversial topic. I agree very much with your insight. I happened found myself in a similar situation but decided to call the police as well as intervene. I was thinking what you would advice in the case of children being attacked or worse?
In the case of a child or children being attacked, my emotional reaction would be to yell something to get the attacker to stop, and then to immediately intervene physically if the attacker did not stop. However, that may not be a smart thing to do in terms of self preservation, or the preservation of my own family.
My reaction would depend on the specific situation. But I’d think twice before physically intervening in any situation that does not involve my family.
As humans it is in our nature to defend each other from each other; however, there is no law that mandates that we involve our selves in a potential situation that may result in injury or death. The reasonable response in those situations is to be aware of it, report it immediate to local authorities with as much description as possible. Many may say, “if it was you you would want help.” This may be, but it would be selfish of me (the potential victim) to involve another in a life or death situation. You did the correct decision by walking away. Remember, walking away does not mean ignoring and condoning the actions of the perpetrator; it is your safety and responsibility to your life and to those who you love and care about.
1. in defense of other peoples’ property? probably not.
2. in a foreign country where their attitudes about beating women and children are potentially totally different than ours? probably not.
3. in an otherwise civilized setting where you’re a witness to a woman or a child being hurt? i’ll answer that like this; the best decision is the right decision, the second best decision is the wrong decision, but the most unforgivably worst decision is to make no decision. if you can do something to prevent an innocent person from being brutalized then you should, whatever that decision might involve. it’s your moral imperative to do so. you don’t necessarily have to fight the perpetrator, either. yell, draw attention to what’s happening, and of course call the police, but whatever you do, do something. standing by while a child or a woman or anyone else for that matter gets victimized and doing absolutely nothing is tantamount to giving approval of that act.
Excellent points. I agree 100% that a decision must be made, and I also agree that you should do something (calling the police, yelling, etc.).
Although I *personally* agree with your sentiment regarding the “moral imperative”, I should ask…what moral imperative? Set by whom? Individual survival, unfortunate as it may be, has very little to do with morals. It has more to do with understanding consequences.
I believe the moral imperative that is being referred too is that of preservation of life, primitive instinct to protect the weak (in cases where the subject is not an aggressor nor self-decorative), and indirect value of morality which is defending the victim do to percieved irrational assertion of the aggressor.
I have never been in this kind of situation, but I would prefer to call the police and ask for help to other people around the area, imagine if the attacker is armed with a gun or with a knife or may be there are more than one attacker, I think it is very difficult only to react and attack the assailant.
Hi David- Jules here. You brought up a very interesting, but controversial topic. I believe if you come across the situation you described, the best thing you could do is call the police and be a good witness. Descriptions, license plates etc. Another area to think about is if you intervene and end up putting a hurt on the individual; aside from being possibly getting killed, or injured your self you could end up being arrested or dragged through a civil lawsuit. My first priority of self defense is keeping myself and my loved ones safe.
Great point regarding the lawsuit, and one that shouldn’t be disregarded.
Great post and great comments. Something for all of us to think about before it happens. Really depends on the situation but after reading this post, I will really slow down and really think it through before doing anything. I hope this never comes up but with more street crime occurring…
Yes, leave it alone. After all, in other societies, it is sometimes an unwritten social norm where men are allowed to discipline their women and children. It is not a democracy, rather patriarchy and that is the way of things in many nations. We would do well not to interfere. Unless, it is something personal to you and impinges on you directly.
“After all, in other societies, it is sometimes an unwritten social norm where men are allowed to discipline their women and children.”
I’d like to add here that just because something is a “social norm” doesn’t make it good for some or all members of society.
My moral compass tells me that it’s wrong to idly watch innocent people who can’t defend themselves get beaten up. While all of the concerns voiced by everyone are legitimate, I just can’t stomach the idea of knowing I could do something and I didn’t. I’m also not advocating physical intervention as your first course of action, far from it. For example, I wouldn’t abandon a child relative of mine on a street corner to go square away some guy whom I just witnessed slap his wife. I’m just saying don’t allow “nothing” to be the option you choose. See something, say something, do something.
“My moral compass tells me that it’s wrong to idly watch innocent people who can’t defend themselves get beaten up.”
So does mine. Anyone who doesn’t feel this way, in my opinion, is a psychopath.
“I’m just saying don’t allow “nothing” to be the option you choose. See something, say something, do something.”
Most definitely. But with that said, the choice you make should be based on the situation, your level of skill, and the risks you’re willing to take. I’ve seen too many people get involved in situations they shouldn’t, or don’t need to, particularly where bodily harm is not involved.
If a gang of thugs was standing by armed to the teeth with all sorts of weapons I would probably refrain but surely if everyone refused to take responsibility for others’ safety and walked by acting like their noses bled criminals and other evil men would have a field day. If you know you’re properly trained and there aren’t any obvious overwhelming odds against you (as in my first sentence) I do think the right thing to do is attack the SOB and defend the innocent woman or child, especially if you can take him from behind with his attention is focused elsewhere. In that case heed admiral Halsey’s advice: hit hard, hit first, hit often.
If my (hypothetical) wife or child was being molested and I wasn’t there I’d sure as hell would wish someone was man enough to step up to the plate and defend them. What kind of a society do we live in when we allow defenseless women and children (especially children) to be beaten and abused right in front of our eyes? I especially hate hearing about this sort of thing happening in front of a whole group of people who could easily have overpowered the attacker but were to scared to act.
If you’re that afraid of bodily harm and death I’d suggest you stay home as much as possible (even though even that still carries risks, might slip in the bathroom and break your neck on the sink for example) and never drive a car as there’s always a chance you might get into a car accident and be grieveously wounded or killed.
This situation is actually similar to being a witness to a car accident and seeing a person trapped in a car that could catch fire: do you risk your own life trying to save them from a horrible death or do you stand by and watch them burn?
I don’t claim to be a hero but it would seem some things are most definitely worth fighting and risking one’s life for. Just imagine a child was murdered before your eyes while you choose not to intervene: could you live with this image for the rest of your life? Sometimes the preservation of one’s self-respect and moral integrity outweighs the biological imperative of survival at all cost.
The greatest heroes of mankind are those who selflessly risked life and limb to save others: some would call them fools for sacrificing themselves (instead of counting on others to risk their lives) but I don’t.
By this logic we should dissuade all young men and women from joining the military or the police: they could get hurt or die after all and for what: others’ safety? I do believe everyone here would be glad when the boys in blue show up when needed and no-one in his right mind would discount the value of the men and women in uniform guarding our borders.
Thanks for the thoughtful response Zara. I agree with many of your sentiments. But, my perspective has also changed over time.
I’ve been in more than one situation where my life and the life of my wife was at risk. Coming out of those experiences, I developed an even greater appreciation for the lives of my family members, and my own life for that matter. Without having been in life threatening circumstances (not saying you have or have not), it’s difficult to fully appreciate the ramifications of putting yourself at risk. Of course, if you feel fairly certain that there is no risk, then by all means, I would agree with whatever action is necessary to stop the attack.
The question of whether to act or not (physically) will also be different for single people, and people with and without children. There was a time when I was both younger and single, and my perspective then was substantially different.
I’m not making any judgments here. Everyone needs to think about these things for themselves. Your questions are good ones.
good points by all. I was in a situation that occurred at a sporting event. after the game my wife and i were walking toward the exit when two 20 something males were preparing to fight. both had clenched fists and were ready to start, Both were younger and stronger than i. As the crowd was pushing my wife and i forward we were heading right into the middle of the fight. Fearing for my wife and i and also fearful that were would both be hit once the fight erupted , I got between the two told them in in my best fatherly voice to knock it off and proceeded to break up the fight. So self perservation and the fear that my wife could have been harmed made me react. It could have went very wrong and both my wife and I could have been assaulted. But at the time, and with no real exit away from them i did what i felt was best. But point well taken be careful intervening in any physical confrontation not directed at you or your family. Had i been alone i may not have done anything at all.
Excellent story and point Bill. Sometimes doing something is safer for you than not doing something.
I would want to help out but I know better now. I learned the hard way. Now I have 5 children and a husband so I would not think twice about jumping in to help. I call the cops no matter what.
I agree with eveyones comments but i would add.Assess the totality of the situation.Plan a reasonable responce,then act by carrying out, the reasonable responce.Just remember the best of intentions can lead to unexpected consequences.
As a 102 lb female, I would hope to God that someone would help me if I was being violated in a public setting. That’s why we train – to defend ourselves and those who cannot defend themselves. There is no honor in walking away. Do something. Anything! Use your brain and think creatively. At the very least cause a distraction to help the victim. But do not turn ever turn your back and walk away from your brother or sister. In my opinion a martial artist agrees to the idea of Ohana when they start their training.
I would also hope that someone would help you, or anyone else in such a situation.
But consider that even police officers only intervene when they have the resources/strategy that minimizes risk for themselves. A lone cop without a weapon would be unlikely to enter a bank robbery in progress with multiple armed criminals. And, the US military doesn’t get involved in most cases where people in other countries are brutally killed.
Sad as it is for victims, it only makes sense to intervene when the potential to stop the act outweighs the risks. Obviously, doing “something” is nearly always possible. Unfortunately, in many cases anything short of immediate physical intervention will be too late for the victim.
You bring up a valid and difficult question, and I hear your point of view on this. You speak from hard experience and I think you realize that this question is really important to your readers/students. Because for the person who knows functional self defense, getting involved is more tempting than for most people! Maybe your words of experience and wisdom will make me think twice about any decisions I make…. Because what is the good of my “self defense” training if I just put myself in more hazardous situations because of it!?
While taking care of yourself and your own family is always a first priority under any circumstance, I believe we also have a responsibility to take care of our communities. That doesn’t mean every situation merits risky attention. But it means that we have to judge which do and don’t. Good people can make the world a better place if we are willing to take risks to do so. What’s worth living for is worth dying for too. The inverse is also true.
This is idealistic rhetoric from someone who hasn’t been in a real fight (sparing doesn’t count), since I was a child…. Take it for what it’s worth.
But even the police don’t stop violence but merely pick up the pieces afterwards. If something bad happens in front of us, then the final decision about whether we get involved or not, is up to our consciences, and our guts. These decisive moments summon the best we have to offer in terms of what we’ve learned about life and death, and about what is important to us. There is no sure fire way to avoid making a mistake either way. Big risks are involved.
I know why you did what you did in those situations, and also why you tell us to not do the same. Do as you say, not as you did, right? 😉 In doing what you do as a teacher of self defense, you’re actually getting involved in other people’s protection yourself. You show your concern to help people protect themselves both by teaching them how to do so, and advising that they shouldn’t get involved with situations they don’t have to. We are your community, so to speak, and under your care, as a teacher. You’re looking out for and taking responsibility for us. Thanks 🙂
When it came to the situations where you got involved, the same instincts came over you I think. It’s hard to resist who you are, despite your better judgment.
On the bright side, if anyone encounters a situation that they need to get involved with, for whatever reason, then I think/hope, that often a physical intervention is not needed. Bringing attention to something wrong, may just end it. Most people who do evil want to do it in secret.
Just yelling out in a powerful and confident voice, from a distance away, may diffuse a situation. If it elevates it, then at least one may already have a weapon ready. You may have time to run or at least size up your opponent as he approaches.
Recently an employee of mine’s teenage sister ran from an attempted kidnapping as she was walking home from school! The perp. chased her an entire block on foot before she made it to safety! She was smart and darted fast and furiously.
Another employee walked in on and armed robbery at a gas station. After the crime, he chased the victim down in his truck and tried to assist police to locate him.
Whether right or wrong, they both acted on gut instinct and did what they felt they had to do in the situations they encountered. Having a teacher that reminds us how stupid we all are to act as my employee did with the truck, is a good thing. But acting that way is also a good thing. It all is the same in the end. Your advice is well noted.
“While taking care of yourself and your own family is always a first priority under any circumstance, I believe we also have a responsibility to take care of our communities.”
Definitely. Without doing so, we really wouldn’t have any community to speak of.
“That doesn’t mean every situation merits risky attention. But it means that we have to judge which do and don’t.”
“But even the police don’t stop violence but merely pick up the pieces afterwards.”
In most cases that’s true. As I wrote in my previous comment to Monica, it will often be the case that any action short of immediate physical intervention will be too little, too late.
“Most people who do evil want to do it in secret…Just yelling out in a powerful and confident voice, from a distance away, may diffuse a situation.”
I think most people who break the law don’t want to get caught, and attention makes it more likely that they will. But if they’re already in an isolated place, if you’re the only other witness, they may feel that the best way to get rid of that attention is to also get rid of you. And, if you’re in a public place, if there are other witnesses around, then the criminal likely doesn’t care about witnesses. I do think yelling is a great first option, particularly yelling something like, “I’ve called the police and they’re on their way!”, but I do think that if you yell something you should be prepared for two things…it may have zero effect or it may cause you to become a target.
this thought just came to mind…sparring and rolling is where you learn whether or not you can fight for real. if you’re not sparring or rolling, then you’re probably getting in really good shape and you’re developing a modicum of fighting ability, but you’re really shorting yourself of the knowledge that what you’re doing would actually work or not (it probably won’t at first, spar more, rinse and repeat and hone your skills). having this knowledge will give you a realistic barometer of your skill level and what you’re really capable of offering to remedy a situation like this. it will also give you the confidence to approach a potentially violent situation calmly. bullies feed on other peoples’ fear and they rely on evoking fear from others to feed their aggression. when a bully sees that he’s being approached by someone who isn’t afraid of them they usually back down. just be prepared to fight, though, and don’t be afraid to hit first if that’s what it takes to defuse the situation and protect yourself and others.
Another great topic. I say, stay out of it at least from a physical standpoint. Take video, take license plate info, call police, give a location, but don’t give the offender or offenders a reason to turn their attention to you, especially in this day and age where anyone could possibly have a gun or knife. And especially not in New Orleans.
I have read your post,I have been in similar situations, when i was living in corona, Queens, three times, twice near the token gate, and once, I walked up on a man, punching a woman,even being trained, my gut told me to be careful, at the time, fortunately, there where other men, who stepped in, after i stopped the guy from punch the woman, then the cop came out of the booth. But from then I make my decision to get involved a subjective one. and I have to consider my family first.
If i have no choice then, i will get involved.
I have spent my entire career involved in the Police/Security industry so I have witnessed quite a few assault taking place. Most of the time a strong verbal intervention was enough to stop the assault. As far as witnessing an assault when going about your normal business I think applying the first aid formula of DRABC is appropriate. D stands for ‘Danger’, ie: assess the danger and if you have to put yourself in danger in order to apply first aid then don’t! There’s no sense in adding to the casualty list!!
In my opinion, part of the problem is that people don’t get involved and turn their heads for whatever reason. We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones as well as every other good person out there to stand up for ourselves as well as others for many reasons. No one deserves to suffer or be hurt while other people have it in their power to help. If u have ever turned ur back on someone in need, u need to ask yourself one question and that is “how would I feel if I or someone i love needed help and no one did anything to help save me or my loved ones??!! The problem is that very few people prepair themselves and and their loved ones to correctly handle or act in these situations and always leave it to others to keep them safe or we prefer to believe it will never happen to them until it does. In most of these cases it is as they always say “TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE!!” All good people owe it to themselves and their loved ones to at least be involved and have as a part of their daily lives a decent exercise and selfdefence programme. We pay good money on other insurances and policies to help us deal with tragedy and misfortune in our lives but very few spend their time and money on making sure we are better prepared to handle and give ourselves a chance in these difficult situations as well as so many other situations in life. Stop being afraid and stop being a victim and prepair ur selves through daily exercise and selfdefence programms so that u can have a better quality of life and God forbid u find yourself in a bad situation, u will be better equipped both physically and mentally to help yourselves and others.
If I chose to walk away I would be dialing 911 as I walked. I was with my wife at Metcalf shopping mall in Kansas city one day, quite awhile ago. I was a police officer at the time, spent 21 years in uniform. I was off duty and we were approached by a man in his mid to late 20’s, he asked if I remembered him and I didn’t. His mood escalated and he pulled a survival knife from his back and said he was going to gut me and my wife both. I was carrying a model 19 2 1/2″ 357, I pushed my wife away and told her to call 911, we didn’t have cell phones back then so she ran towards the mall entrance. I drew down and told him to put the knife down or die. He took a couple of steps towards me and I cocked the hammer and muttered “damn fool” and I think at that point he realized I was going to shoot. He dropped the knife and turned to run but I was quicker and kicked his foot so he tripped. I held him on the ground at gunpoint for a full 15 minutes before the police arrived. That, thank God, is the only encounter similar to the above that I have ever had. I and my family are armed at all times due to the death threats that I received from some of the people I arrested. We train 3 times a month, we don’t stand and shoot targets. We use dingers and stand, walk and run while shooting at the dingers from about 20 yards. We also practice point shooting, draw, hold the weapon at waist height and fire at the dingers, you can get pretty accurate with practice. I hope none of us on here have to face a situation where we are forced to make a decision, but if we do I hope we are all prepared to protect ourselves and our loved ones. In answer to the above question, it would be a judgment call depending on the situation.
Hi.I just had an incident I want to share my gf called to say that there’s a guy banging on her front door and wants to gain entry.apparently her niece invited him to church and now he wants to have her sexually.he’s a drug addict.my gf stays just around the corner from me.I drove over and the guy was still banging on the front door.I asked him if I could help. He ignored me and kept on bangin on the front door. I told him to stop and pushed him backwards. He came towards me and I gave him a two handed push/shove that ,I think , winded him for a few seconds. I told my gf to open and took her cold steel inferno keychain pepperspray. He came rushing me and I said”hey!”and sprayed him in the eyes. Instantly he went backwards and covered his eyes and bent over.only then did the neighbours intervened and had to drag him home by force. My gf had already called the police and they arrived about 10mins later.gf’s niece explained what happened and went with the police to the guy’s home. She walked back and said police will take him to hospital and that he was still going mad and was just asking for her and calling out her name.
I would tend to rush. But as is brought out in the article, this might not be the best idea. David, moral imperative, in my mind, is not something that is “set”. It’s something you know. Morals are either inherited or taught. Either way, morals aren’t set by others, but by yourself. So nobody can tell you that this is right or wrong. It depends on your personal or religious beliefs.
The problem I have is this: consider that person as another human being. Not a victim. Then can you just walk past? Is that why we train? To walk past when it might affect our lives? Maybe this is what one might call the “superhero mindset”, but it seems to me to be pretty self-centered when our concern doesn’t extend to someone else’s life.
My own attitude jives with shifter2. I’d like to add two points. Where a person lives is a factor. Responding to an assault taking place in a rural town has different elements than a high risk city area. My other observation was being quite surprised in surfing news stories, to find many reporting the death or injury of someone who attempted to break up a fight. As a side note, I also surfed the topic of de-escalation, hoping to find some advise on non-physical intervention techniques, but these all dealt with avoiding confrontation before it occurs.