What’s more degrading than being targeted with harassment because of your race, sex, religion, color, gender, size, orientation, disability, age, or origin while surrounded by bystanders who see what is happening, but then do nothing?
It doesn’t have to be that way.
At this moment in history, we are witnessing a spike in disrespect, harassment, and hate violence. As bystanders, we need to be especially vigilant and aware of what disrespect, harassment, and hate violence look like to be able to stand up against it.
Yesterday I took a wonderful class, sponsored by iHollaback that provided tools to enable all of us to safely intervene against harassment.
You can make a choice to actively and visibly take a stand against harassment. The Five D’s created by iHollaback are different methods you can use to support someone who’s being harassed, emphasize that harassment is not okay, and demonstrate to people in your life that they too have the power to make our communities and workplaces safer.
Before looking at the different methods it is important to ask yourself, “Why don’t I intervene when I see someone being harassed or disrespected?” The reasons are many but here are a few that were brought up in the training:
- Fear of making things worse
- Fear that the harassment will turn on me
- No one else is doing anything
- I don’t have enough context for the situation
- I’m scare I’ll end up being targeted
- I don’t know what to do
Your safety and the safety of others is of paramount importance. After you read the different methods, think about which you would be most comfortable in using.
Distraction is a subtle and creative way to intervene. The aim here is simply to derail the incident by interrupting it. The idea is to ignore the harasser and start a conversation with the person who is being targeted. Don’t talk about or refer to the harassment. Instead, talk about something completely unrelated. You can try the following:
- Pretend to be lost. Ask for directions. Ask for the time. Pretend you know the person being harassed. Talk to them about something random and take attention off of the harasser.
- Get in the way. Continue what you were doing, but get between the harasser and the target.
- Accidentally-on-purpose spill your coffee, the change in your wallet, or make a commotion.
- If police are involved, distraction may not be the best choice as you don’t want to be seen as obstructing justice.
Of course, read the situation and choose your Distract method accordingly. The person who is being targeted will likely catch on, and hopefully your act or statement will de-escalate the situation.
Delegation is when you ask for assistance, for a resource, or for help from a third party. Here are examples of what you can do:
- Find the store supervisor, bus driver, security guard, or a transit employee and ask them to intervene.
- If you’re near a school, contact a teacher or someone at the front desk. On a college campus, contact campus security or someone at the front desk of a university building.
- Get your friend on board and have them use one of the methods of Distraction (eg. asking for the time, directions, or striking up a conversation unrelated to the harassment) to communicate with the person being harassed while you find someone to delegate to.
- Speak to someone near you who notices what’s happening and might be in a better position to intervene. Work together.
- Call 311 or 911 (if it is safe) to request help. Before contacting 911, use Distract to check in with the person being targeted to make sure they want you to do this. Some people may not be comfortable or safe with the intervention of law enforcement. In certain situations, ou may not be able to get to the person in which case, depending on the situation, you will need to use your best judgement.
It can be really helpful to record an incident as it happens to someone, but there are a number of things to keep in mind to safely and responsibly document harassment. Check out this tip sheet from WITNESS for more details.
First, assess the situation. Is anyone helping the person being harassed? If not, use one of the other four D’s. If someone else is already helping out, assess your own safety. If you are safe, go ahead and start recording.
ALWAYS ask the person who was harassed what they want to do with the recording. NEVER post it online or use it without their permission. There are several reasons for this:
- Being harassed or violated is already a disempowering experience. Using an image or footage of a person being victimized without that person’s consent can make the person feel even more powerless.
- If the documentation goes viral, it can lead to further victimization and a level of visibility that the person may not want.
- Also, posting footage without a victim’s consent makes their experience public – something that can lead to a whole host of legal issues, especially if the act of harassment or violence was in some way criminal. They may be forced to engage with the legal system in a way that they are not comfortable with.
- Lastly, the experience could have been traumatic. Publicizing another person’s traumatic experience without their consent is no way to be an effective and helpful bystander.
Tips for filming harassment:
- Make sure to keep a safe distance – at least 6 feet
- Hold your phone horizontally to capture more details
- Film street signs and other landmarks that will identify the location
- Say the date and time
- Use slow and steady pans instead of quick movements
- Remember that your right to record is protected by the First Amendment as long as you aren’t obstructing justice
Even if you can’t act in the moment, you can make a difference for the person who has been harassed by checking in on them after the fact. Many types of harassment happen in passing or very quickly, in which case you can wait until the situation is over and speak to the person who was targeted then. Here are some ways to actively use the tactic of Delay:
- Ask them if they’re okay and tell them you’re sorry that happened to them.
- Ask them if there’s any way you can support them.
- Ask them what they need.
- Offer to accompany them to their destination or sit with them for a while.
- Share resources with them and offer to help them make a report if they want to.
- If you’ve documented the incident, ask them if they want you to send it to them.
You may want to directly respond to harassment by naming what is happening or confronting the harasser. This tactic can be risky: the harasser may redirect their abuse towards you and may escalate the situation. Before you decide to respond directly, assess the situation: Are you physically safe? Is the person being harassed physically safe? Does it seem unlikely that the situation will escalate? Can you tell if the person being harassed wants someone to speak up? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you might choose a direct response.
If you choose to directly intervene, some things you can say to the harasser are:
- “That’s inappropriate, disrespectful, not okay, etc.”
- “Leave them alone.”
- “That’s homophobic, racist, (insert type of harassment), etc.”
You can also talk with the person being harassed and ask:
- Are you okay?
- What’s going on here?
- Should I get help?
- Should we get out of here?
The most important thing here is to keep it short and succinct. Try not engage in dialogue, debate, or an argument, since this is how situations can escalate. If the harasser responds, try your best to assist the person who was targeted instead of engaging with the harasser.
Direct intervention can be risky, so use this one with caution.
* A note about safety: I never want you to get hurt trying to help someone out. Always think about safety and consider possibilities that avoid putting you or anyone else in harm’s way. Remember: if you don’t feel comfortable intervening, see if you can get someone else to help.
Make a personal pledge to help others if you witness harassment. And if you are concerned that your fear will prevent you from doing what you believe is right, you can see my newsletter here that shares ways to tap into your courage.
If you witness police brutality and choose not to intervene, you can report the incident to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, your local Commission on Human Rights, or the National Police Accountability Project. But always check with the person who was harassed first.
iHollaback offers free one-hour training sessions. The organization also partners with organizations around the world to adapt their proven training to local cultures, contexts, and identities. There are two ways to work with them. First, they can provide the training, either by paying them as consultants or through a grant that your organization and iHollaback would collaboratively apply for. Second, they also license their training methodology to organizations globally. Organizations can go through a three day train-the-trainer program and sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) prior to providing the training locally, to ensure quality. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.