Recently I have been doing a lot of work in bystander awareness training as a tool for educating people on their roles in ending violence against women. We have all been bystanders at one point in our lives. That moment when you question, “Do I get involved? Is this any of my business? Will I make it worse if I do?” The question I always wonder is, “How many lives could be saved, or violence de-escalated, or safe space created, if we just spoke up?”
In taking part of this training and as a facilitator, I always think back to when my two best friends and I saved a Korean girl from being raped in an alley. It is always a shining example of what can happen if you find the courage to act instead of waiting for someone else to take the lead.
It was 2001 and we had just moved to Korea to teach English as a second language. Young and fresh out of university, it was an exciting, scary, overwhelming and rewarding experience. Three months into our contract we began picking up the language and consistently learned new phrases and words to help us get around, shop and order food at restaurants.
One expression we often heard from our students looking for assistance was, “Teacher, Doe Wa Jo!” which means “Help Me.”
It was a warm evening and we just finished having some beer with friends at the bar. As we sat out on our balcony in our apartment on the 18th floor, we looked out at the city and talked about the evening. Then we heard a scream and a woman repeating, “Ahniyo! Ahniyo!” (No! No!) and then repeating, “Doe Wa Jo!”
We realized quickly what was happening as our foreign ears understood her call for help. Immediately we ran to the elevator, cursing it to be faster! When we arrived on the ground floor we took off like bats outta hell, and down the alley just two small streets away from our apartment. My friend Karen, who is small but mighty, started running after the guy who took off running down the street. I can only imagine the surprise that this guy experienced as three white women come out of nowhere to interrupt his attack.
The poor girl was in shock and crying hysterically into our arms. We walked her to the sidewalk and sat with her on the curb as she repeated over and over, “kamsahamnida!” (which means with great thanks). We held her hand and sat with her while she called for help, communicating as best we could in our broken Korean. We said goodbye as she got into her friend’s car, and I couldn’t help but think of how strange it must have been for her to be saved by three Canadian girls who understood one expression in Korean.
I don’t’ believe in coincidence, and I know how easily it could have been for us to ignore her cries and question if someone else would help her. In that crazy way the universe likes to work, it taught us the simple cry of “help me” and put us in the path of a girl whose future could have been compromised without our action.
Don’t be a bystander when it comes to violence. Without putting yourself in danger, how can you help someone who needs assistance? Even the simple act of asking how you can help is taking action. In the end, it could save a life.
I wrote this poem after the incident. I will always remember the girl who cried, “Help!”
THE VAMPIRE VS THE SOJU GIRL
Every time I take a sip
The sultry liquid upon my lip
The waves within my memory
Muster up a storm sea
That night had warmth all through the air
We girls of three with skin so fair
Were strangers in a foreign land
Time was merely hourglass sand
Blistering screams embodying fright
Breaking the silence of the night
Riddled tongue we understood
A vampire was striking our neighbourhood
We watched her run in naked feet
Then fall on fours upon the street
Our angel wings we spread out wide
Gliding to the young girl’s side
Us three were strangers in her land
Our language she did not understand
So she spoke to us with burning eyes
We all had been victims of vampire lies
She blamed the Soju for numbing her mind
But I wasn’t tricked by the vampire kind
Leaving guilt when freedom is truth
A common effect of the vampire’s tooth
Parting our ways I vowed not to forget
All the Soju girls in my life I have met
With Flaneur-like ways I would slay them all
The vampires of the world would fall.