Civil courage

A lecture on civil courage

Friday 28 October, 2006, Brian Palmer from the University of Uppsala had been invited to lecture on civil courage at the People’s House in Vuollerim. I attended that lecture together with a good friend of mine. During the coffee break the question was asked, “Does anyone have examples of civil courage to share?” My friend gave me a meaningful look and I knew she wanted me to tell about something that had happened in Stockholm a couple of years earlier. It was during a night on the town when I had stood up for a woman in distress, a complete stranger.

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The person, who had arranged for the lecturer, was a person who had taken part in spreading rumors and untruths about me and several friends of mine in a company network. Therefor, I had a feeling that it wasn’t for me to share the story there and then. Instead I’ll tell the story now.

A summer night in Stockholm

I had a fun night on the town, together with my friend from Norway. We were hungry for a midnight-snack and entered a restaurant, sat down at a table and ordered something to eat. Behind my friend’s back I saw five men who were about to head out with a woman who looked to be completely incapacitated. Can’t quite put my finger on it – maybe it was their body language, the sparing smiles and the meaning looks they exchanged with each other, or the fact that all men seemed to be sober while the woman was totally wasted – that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I told my friend what I had noticed and that it felt important for me to go out and check up on her. As I came out I overheard that one man was leaving the rest of the group to pick up their car. While studying the men it became clear to me that the woman was in great danger to be gang raped.

Thoughts whirled through my head. I realized that there wasn’t enough time to call the police. When looking around I saw people sitting on a terrace and walked up to them. Can’t remember the exact words I used, but I asked them to please help since the woman seemed to be to incapable to take care of herself. They looked over at the four men with the wasted woman limply hanging in between, then they looked at me as if I were crazy and then finally they just looked away. It became clear to me that no one was going to become engaged.

I knew that time was of essence and that I needed to act before the man returned with the car. My entire being became filled with a “force” that can be described as rage, but that wasn’t exactly what it was. I felt more like some kind of fearless strength when I held my head high and with determined steps marched up to the men, demanding with a firm voice “LET GO OF MY DAUGHTER IMMEDIATELY!”

The way they reacted made it crystal clear to me that my assumption had been correct. They seemed so guilty, clearly choked and spooked by my approach. They let go of the woman and she slumped to the ground as they took off running and were gone in a flash.

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There was a cement divider on the roadside and I managed to get her over there. I held my arm around her as I sat down besides her and tried to figure out what to do next. Then I could see her lips move in an effort to say something, I leaned in closer as she whispered, “Thank you”. I realized she’d been fully aware. Obviously she had been drugged, and her body couldn’t obey her mind. I asked for her name and she whispered it to me. Can’t remember what her name was today, but it might have been Helena.

The questions piled up in my mind. What do I do? How do I get in contact with my friend inside the restaurant since I could not leave the woman?

Now to the most remarkable part. What happened next was the most unlikely scenario imaginable. A couple came walking on the boardwalk, arm in arm, and they said “Hi Helena!” I said “Oh, do you know her?” It turned out that they were neighbors with Helena. I told them what had happened and they assisted her home.

I hope that “Helena” and I will meet one day, since I would love to hear her side of the story.

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