Last night I intervened in an attempt to break up a fight between two teenage girls.
A browse through an an arts and crafts shop with my husband was punctured by the sound of breaking glass. I assumed it was an accidental breakage or something had fallen from a shelf. The first sound was followed by more smashing glass, a growing scuffle and the unmistakable sound of punches making contact on bodies.
It’s strange when you hear noises that are out of the context with the environment you are in. If I’d been in a nightclub district, or at a pub, or in a crowded area maybe the shouting and scuffling would have sounded more in keeping with the landscape. So it took me a moment to register that a fight had broken out in the shop a couple of aisles across from where I was standing.
“Get off me. Get off me. Get off me” were the first shouts to penetrate the air. I walked to the end of the aisle and peered around. I noticed people hurrying toward the exit and that shopping trolleys had been abandoned in the aisles with people backing away from the direction of the noise. I saw the young shop assistant grab her phone, presumably calling for security.
I asked someone what was going on. “Two girls are fighting”. “Two girls?” I said. I had assumed it was a man and woman because of the cacophony of crashing and banging we could hear. Outside the shop which had a glass frontage, I noticed a number of people staring in. I started to slowly walk towards the noise because I was alarmed to hear it was two girls in what sounded like a ferocious melee. I got to the aisle and on the floor in front of me were two teenage girls tearing into each other on the floor.
One girl was straddling the other who was pinned to the floor on her back. Her hands were flying in a cascade of punches to the girl on the floor beneath her. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. I lurched forward and grabbed the hand of the girl to prevent her from doing any further damage. It felt like time stood still as I crouched down and started pleading with them to stop because the level of anger and aggression was overwhelming.
The aisle was covered in broken glass with the contents of the shelving scattered around them. Both girls had cuts to their faces and bodies. I held onto the first girl’s hands while pleading with them both. Over and over I started to say “please stop, please stop, please stop” like a broken record and “please don’t do this, please don’t do this – whatever’s happened this isn’t worth it. It’s not worth it”. I hoped that in doing so they would eventually listen and heed . Perhaps the mantra was to help me too, to try and calm down my own distress at the savagery I had witnessed and in the hope I could de-escalate the situation.
It’s strange how, in such a frightening environment, your brain takes in and makes split second decisions about what is going on. I did not fear for my own safety although at the same time I was acutely aware of the aggression being directed towards me as I tried to reason with them. It did occur to me that she might start punching me instead and then what would I do?
At some point in any fight, people have to stop or want to stop because the adrenalin required is exhausting. Nobody can keep it up for ever. But they can’t back out, or don’t know how to back down or they don’t want to be the one to fold. I felt that my presence, however unwelcome, was their only circuit-breaker. I was begging them to calm down and to help me help them to just stop.
I felt horrified when I realised the girl on the ground had sunk her teeth into the arm of her opponent and was pulling at her skin and stretching it out to a sickening distance. There was blood dripping from the arm and from the mouth of the girl on the floor. Eventually something must have gotten through and the shouting started to subside and both girls were marginally less aggressive. I remember thinking, how are we all going to get up without the one on the bottom kicking and biting and the one on the top lashing out again. They both started to accuse one another of being the primary aggressor and insisting to me that “if I let go, she’s going to kick me”.
I was on my own for at least five minutes, begging and wrestling with these girls who couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen. “sweetheart please, please, it’ll be ok, trust me, trust me”. All I could hear was the sound of my own voice pleading for it to end.
Somehow, we were all on our feet and another older woman and a security guard were beside us. Finally somebody else had stepped in. But it wasn’t over. Then we had to continue to restrain one while keeping the other one away. That was the only time I felt like what I was doing was in some way wrong. To be pinning someone’s hands down as they pleaded for you to let them go did not feel ok with me. She was still so angry and the second girl continued to yell and scream inches from my face. “Please walk away, please walk away”. Then two more security guards came onto the scene in whose hands the situation belonged.
Apparently the disagreement with the girls started at school. We know that society has become increasingly violent and physical aggression and fighting between girls is all too common. You-Tubes of girls fighting are uploaded and disseminated and are treated as a form of entertainment. It is not entertainment. It is assault. Most disturbing of all is how often others just stand around and watch and cheer and take sides. What is wrong with everybody? One punch can be a game-changer for life. We see this all the time.
I understand why people don’t get involved and it’s awful to see people fighting.
However we get the world we deserve when we sit back and do nothing. The standard we walk past is the standard we accept. If it was us being assaulted and punched almost senseless, wouldn’t we want somebody to help? Violence and aggression (whether male or female) should be absolutely and comprehensively condemned. Always.