Neighborhood Protectors

The Philadelphia Daily News reported that last week in Philadelphia, PA, a young woman had been waiting at a bus stop to go to work when a man approached her, demanded her purse and cell phone at gun point, then forced her into a nearby alley and sexually assaulted her. When he showed up in her neighborhood again, the young woman spotted him and started yelling, “He raped me! He raped me!” as she chased him down. Her neighbors joined in the chase and helped detain the man until the police arrived. Neighbors interviewed for the article said:

“I got a daughter myself – I hope someone would do the same for my kid,” and another one said that sexual assaults aren’t a crime anybody takes lightly in the neighborhood. “Everybody is like family around here and that’s one thing we don’t play,” he said. “That’s the crazy stuff out here.”

The article notes that something similar happened in Philadelphia earlier this summer when neighbors detained a man who raped an 11-year old girl (when she was on her way to school) until the police arrived.

Too often survivors of sexual assault (both female and male) are not believed  so I am glad these neighbors took the complaints seriously and made sure the men could not escape until police arrived.

These stories remind me of something I read a few days ago in Marilyn French’s book From Eve to Dawn: A History of Women in the World (volume 1). In the Intro, she wrote about how 1000s of years ago, most people lived in matricentries, meaning families were centered around the mothers (in part because they didn’t completely understand men’s roles in procreation). Women used land and passed it on to their daughters while men migrated from other clans to mate with them. Children were named for their mothers and stayed with their mothers until they were grown and then usually stayed nearby much of the time.

She writes, “Nor, in such societies, could men abuse their wives, who were surrounded by family members who would protect them” (French, 8). A woman’s family and community helped keep her safe in general. But then, in time, men better realized their role in procreation and started taking women away from their families in an effort to control their reproduction and ensure paternity, and that’s when acts of violence against women seemed to start.

I like this idea of neighbors/community/family as protectors, though it’s not always possible, especially when, in our society today, there is so much abuse within those relationships. I think the Philadelphia stories and French’s book also speak to the importance of bystander intervention by men and women – both to intercede and prevent harassment and assault from occurring in the first place and to hold harassers/assaulters accountable for their actions. Being better about intervening and becoming protectors for those in our neighborhood is something we can all try to do.


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