Charles Ramsey Demonstrates Bystander Intervention

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 13:35 EDT
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If this dog can be a hero, so can you.

Like many of you, I’ve been amazed and fascinated by the story of these three women in Cleveland who got away from a kidnapper that held them for a decade. Of course, not much is known about what happened in all those years or how the kidnappers got away with it for so long, so everyone is mostly focusing on Charles Ramsey, the man who leapt to help one of the victims, Amanda Berry, when she called for help. For better or worse, most of the attention is due to his understandable exuberance and his eye for details (and sadly because of lurking class and racial prejudice), but there’s something important here that needs attention: Ramsey was able to help because he took violence against women seriously. By his own account, his initial impression was that the situations was “a domestic violence dispute”.

I’ll be blunt: Most of us, sadly, do not react to perceived domestic violence this way.  When we think what we’re seeing is domestic violence, most of us turn and look the other way, not because we approve of it, but because we still tend to think of it as “personal” business that we should stay out of. Often, we’re understandably afraid that intervening will put us in danger or that the victim will turn on us, because sadly that is often exactly what happens. So we look the other way.

For whatever reason, Charles Ramsey did not look the other way. He believed what he was seeing was domestic violence, which is understandable, since that’s exponentially more likely than a weird kidnapping scheme, and what 99.9% of us would also assume. He could have put his head down and said it wasn’t his business, but he didn’t. Maybe he was just in a particularly fearless state of mind. Maybe he’s just a more morally centered person than most of us.  I don’t know. But I do know this: Because of him, these women are safe. And even if it had been just an “ordinary” domestic violence situation, his intervention would have still likely resulted in preventing further or more drastic violence, at least on that day.

There’s been a lot of talk about the role of bystanders, especially male bystanders, in preventing sexual and domestic violence. Jackson Katz’s excellent video about this is well worth watching all 20 minutes of:

Ramsey couldn’t have known what he was witnessing when he sprung into action to help Berry get out of the house. He just helped her. We should all learn from him and vow to be a little less cowardly and a little more diligent when we see what we think is sexual or domestic abuse. Because it does matter, even if it’s just “ordinary” everyday violence that won’t make you a national hero.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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