I recently encountered a situation where I felt it was important to ask a stranger what they were doing/if everything was alright or prompt them to explain themselves, however, after they acted confrontationally I lost my nerve and did not say anything. I have often thought back and wondered what would have been the best way to avoid conflict/defuse any escalating situations if I did attempt to acquire that information.
I was on the bus home, 3 girls and 2 boys aged 15-17 guided a young girl aged 6-8 on (whom I had noticed 30 min earlier shopping with her parents and made some idle elevator chatter to the father when he dropped some coins).
There are another 6 or so people scattered around the bus. The group sit near me, and are quite loud so I overhear parts of their conversations. Attempting to be as objective as possible, this is what I could gather. They talked about seeing the girl and her parents at the shops, they said
You know why I got so mad?
and explained it was because of how the parents were treating their daughter badly by rudely refusing some request. There were a few other mentions of some conflict at the shops. They said that their next stop were some clubs and they were going to get very drunk. Next they addressed the girl in a way that seemed to me as though they did not really know her or what to do with her.
Ooh yeah, we should probably feed the girl, lets stop by a food shop, I'm not buying. (then addressing the girl) Little girl, are you hungry?
Note: my question is NOT about about anything other than Interpersonal Skills for avoiding conflict.
Ignoring any subconscious bias I may have and although the young girl did not look distressed at all and other than being obnoxious/swearing the group had done nothing wrong, I had heard enough that I felt it was important to somehow check if everything was alright. While mulling over how to ask what was going on in a way that avoids conflict the group noticed me and said:
Stop talking, people can hear us... This weirdo (gesture at me) is staring at us.
Yes, I was staring, and obviously that wasn't the best method but I will explain it away as subconscious since I was about/attempting to engage in a conversation with them. This confrontation threw me off, I awkwardly looked away and put in headphones until eventually they left. And when I got off I promptly phoned the non-urgent police line with a description and plenty of emphasis on the fact that there was a distinct possibility that there was nothing wrong after all (there was still a good chance they were just transporting her to another relative or something).
My condition is to acquiring (or attempting to acquire) enough information so my worries for the girls safety can be put to rest. Obviously guaranteed conflict aversion won't be possible but I would like to know how to do this before they noticed me, after they noticed me and in the case where our interaction escalates, using IPS in a way that minimises the conflict.