What is the correct thing to do in this situation? (Witnessing assault on a train).

Catching the train home last week, it was about 8pm, dark outside. I was sitting in the 2nd-to-front carriage. From my position, I could see through a glass window in to the front carriage. The front carriage is accessible from within the second carriage via a joining door.

In the front carriage, there was a man in a white shirt pacing back and forth. He was behaving demonstratively. Pacing from one end of the carriage to the other. His facial expression didn’t look too friendly. He caught my attention, and I had a clear sight of him, even though I wasn’t in his carriage. I should note at this point the train was probably 2/3rds full - only one in three seats were empty.

As the train pulled away from one of the stops, the man in white shirt approached a seated commuter - who I did not have a clear line of sight to - and started punching him repeatedly. Whack whack whack… I would estimate I witnessed at least 7 or 8 punches, all aimed at the head area of the seated passenger, who was defending him/herself with raised arms. I can not be sure if any words were exchanged between the pair prior. I can’t be sure if the pair even knew each other. I assume it was a random attack.

None of the people in the front carriage seemed to react. Some looked away, others looked towards the situation but remained in their place. I can’t be sure if anyone said anything - it’s not possible to hear what’s going on in an adjacent carriage. All I can be sure of is that nobody approached either party while the assault was taking place.

At this point, I was switching between operating on instinct, and trying to think what I should be doing. I was watching others in the front carriage (there must have been at least 30 people in that carriage) waiting for someone - anyone - to move in and do… something. But what? Nobody moved. Those in the front carriage were more privy to the events that preceded the assault. Perhaps if someone moved in to help the person being assaulted, that would have acted as a kind of mental “trigger” for me to get up and also help.

But nobody moved.

The assaulter got off the train at the next stop. I couldn’t see what became of the person who was assaulted. There were plenty of people around him/her. Again I made an assumption that there were enough people in that carriage to make sure the person was ok – especially now that the assaulter had alighted.

When I got home, I contacted the train operator through their website and reported the incident with full descriptions (date/time/carriage etc). The trains in my city all have CCTV cameras installed on every carriage.

What should I have done in this situation? Chuck Norris’d my way in to the carriage and confronted the assaulter? Should I have just run in to the carriage and called out to the man, pleading him to stop what he was doing? Should I just assume (as I think I did) that with plenty of people already in the front carriage, they are best placed to be the first responders, and not me?

I’m uneasy about my lack of reaction. In hindsight, I am still not sure what I should have or could have done.

FYI I am 30 years old, male.

I don’t blame you for not knowing what to do - if no one else was willing to react either, who knows what the attacker would do to only one person who would say something?

Does the train in question have an “emergency call” option anywhere? Some trains have “ring the conductor” alarm buttons where you could let them know something was amiss.

Since you were in another carriage, calling 911 on your cell would have been correct. If you were IN the same carriage, the honourable thing would have been to intervene.

if you don’t know how to fight, hopefully from formal training, you don’t want to get involved. even saying, hey! stop that! can be questionable. I’m not saying to never intervence, I’m saying it’s a very complicated issue.

I hope I would have physically intervened, and that more people than just me would do the same. It’s a dangerous thing to do, though. I understand why the other people didn’t want to get involved.

Maybe taken a photo or video for evidence. I don’t think the bystander hypothesis really applies in your case, with the door between you and the time limit.

Right. Call 911. Than at the very least yell loudly “Hey, what are you doing, stop that!” Unless of course you are a feeb.


They got to observe any interaction between the two before the punching occurred. They got to clearly see and hear the whole episode, including where the punches landed (on the guy’s arms? on the seat? on a briefcase he held up?). They got to see if either of the guys really needed help.

Seems to me you’re probably fretting over the worst case scenarios and not really considering the best case scenarios – it was a little spat, nobody actually got hit, it was more amusing than alarming, etc. I think it’s a reasonable assumption that if intervention was truly called for, then among those 30 other folks it would have been forthcoming.

For some people not knowing how to fight comes naturally, they don’t need the formal training. I saw a guy get beat up the other day and after the fight I asked him if he had had any formal training and he said no, but it sure did look like he had at least some formal training.

You needn’t quote the entire OP when making a response

It would be nice to think so, but I doubt that we can assume it.

A very similar thing happened to me about 6 or 7 years ago. I was on the train in the early afternoon, about a couple of metres from the door. A largish man was standing on one side of the door, and another man got on with a bike and stood on the other side of it.

The train trundled on for a bit. Neither man spoke to each other. I didn’t see any interaction between Big Man and Bike Man when Bike Man got on either - I don’t think he clipped the guy with his handlebars or anything. But suddenly Big Man leaned over and punched him 3 or 4 times in the face.

The train wasn’t empty by any means - probably a dozen or so people in the carriage, 2 or 3 of whom would have been about the same distance away as me. I can tell you what we did. Precisely nothing. I was the most “involved” - I offered Bike Man a tissue and asked how he was. And resolutely avoided even looking at Big Man. There was absolutely no way I was getting in the way of an angry violent dude a head taller than me. In my defence I had 2 kids under 4 with me at the time. But I don’t think I would have physically or verbally intervened even if I’d been by myself.

Bike Man confirmed that he had no idea who Big Man was, or why the guy had hit him. Big Man got off the next stop.

I think calling the emergency number is the best thing in those circumstances. But sometimes you just don’t think of it. At least twice a year I seem to hear stories of poor bastards getting killed in the club district while trying to go to the rescue of someone getting beaten up. It can happen so easily.

lol, i totally didn’t see my mistake when i wrote that

First, call the train operator with the emergency call button, say “there’s an assault happening in the front car, call the police.” Then call 911 yourself.

I posted a very abbreviated account of an incident I witnessed September last year. I was in the car with the people, and it was two guys on one. People around the beating all got up and moved away. I called the train operator with the emergency comm button - even if there are no cameras, once the operator knows something is up, they can keep that comm line open and hear everything going on, plus they can contact police to arrive at the next station. But once I realized these guys weren’t just throwing a few punches and stopping - once I saw blood spray against the wall - I was compelled to yell STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!!! at them and sprayed one of them with pepper spray. I missed his face, but it was enough to get them to stop. By then we were at the next station and they ran out and out of the station before police arrived. The whole thing was started and over in probably two to three minutes.

I never had a chance to pull my phone out to call 911 myself. I have no idea whether anyone else did. The train operator was the one who said police had been called once I got back to the speaker. If I hadn’t thought they were trying to kill the guy, I probably would have hung back and been able to make the phone call. If I had been in a different car, then I definitely would have.

(female, 41 at the time)

SeaDragonTatoo, good for you!

Unfortunately many people freeze up out of fear/shock and revert to MMOB mode. Not the right thing to do. The* bystander effect* kicks in; people are less likely to intervene when others aren’t doing anything because people take cues from bystanders. Also responsibility is diffused because of the presence of others (“oh that’s not my responsibility, look at everyone else not doing anything”). But the reverse is also true-once one person gets involved, others are likely to help out.
If you are comfortable intervening one approach is to rally the others passengers ("C’mon, this needs to stop, let’s step up!!). If no weapon, this is a good approach (IMHO). A quick scan of the train carriage should tell you if you have able-bodied men who are likely to assist.

I used to teach bystander education to college kids. Amazing how many of them would say that they would pull out their phones and record in this type of scenario.

Most subways I’ve been on have an intercom to talk to the train operator, if one was present, I would have called it in to the operator who could summon police for the next stop.

White feathers all round, I’m afraid.

I know self-defense, and if a situation starts to look bad, I get into “attack mode.” I don’t wait for someone to start throwing punches. As soon as it gets loud, I get ready.

I would have siddled up to Mr. Strange Man and, when he threw the first punch, I would have smashed his face, thinking to cause pain and blood.

I was on the subway in Philadelphia when a girl fight broke out. Two women (18-20 at the most) got on at the same stop and their conversation quickly escalated into harsh words. By the time the words were getting loud, everyone on the packed 8 am car had noticed and was staring at them.

The women were in the standing area by the doors along with quite a few other people. When the fists began to fly people moved out of their way the best they could and I grabbed a child (3ish) and pulled him into the seat with me to get him out of the way. A cup of coffee went flying and the two were on the floor each refusing to let go of the others hair. No one physically intervened, only just yelling at them to knock it off and stuff like that.

The train was moving while this was happening. The conductor/driver announced that we would be delayed at the next stop at the police would be boarding. It was only a minute or three to the next stop and the police were waiting for us. They removed the ladies and we continued on our way.

For all the complaints about public transportation in Philly, this was handled quickly and efficiently by SEPTA.