As incidents of racist, sexist and Islamophobic harassment continue in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, many Americans will have to ask themselves these questions. And while every situation is different, the tips below — adapted from materials produced by the anti-street-harassment group Hollaback! and other organizations — may help people respond if they see someone being harassed.
Don’t assume you have to confront the harasser.
Directly confronting someone can be risky, because you can become a target, too. In many situations, another option is to talk to the person being harassed. You can ask if he or she needs help, or take a more indirect route by asking for the time or directions or starting a conversation about something other than the harassment. The artist Marie-Shirine Yener explains this tactic in a helpful comic.
Taking the focus off of the harasser can make him or her retreat. In addition, approaching the person being harassed gives that person control over the situation — he or she can choose to accept or decline your help or ask you to do something specific. If you don’t talk to the person experiencing harassment, you may not know what, if anything, he or she needs from you.
Ask someone else for help.
If you don’t feel safe intervening yourself, you can ask someone else to step in. That could be a law enforcement officer. But it could also be a bus driver, train conductor, teacher or other authority figure, or simply another bystander.
If you can’t intervene during the incident, you can still help afterward.
Maybe you saw someone call a fellow subway passenger a derogatory name, then walk away. You can still approach the passenger and ask if she needs help. She might want someone to go with her to her destination or to help her report the incident to law enforcement or an anti-harassment group. Just hearing that someone else saw and recognized the harassment can be helpful for some people.
Hollaback! is offering online bystander intervention training on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1. The group, working with other organizations, has also posted some basic tips on the #MomentofTruth Tumblr. A web tutorial on bystander intervention and de-escalation, by the writer Jes Skolnik, also includes links to other resources. Men Can Stop Rape offers training for boys and men on bystander intervention and other violence prevention strategies. Information about how to intervene can help you do so safely and confidently if the need arises.
AJ Layon was, for 28 years, at the University of Florida College of Medicine, in the Division of Critical Care Medicine, in Gainesville, FL. For the approximately 10 years until September 2011, he was Professor and Chief of Critical Care Medicine at UF; In September of 2011 he became System Director and Co-Chairman of Critical Care Medicine in PA; this ended in 2017. He served as a Physician in the Surgical Group with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders) through 2018 and is presently an intensivist in Florida, struggling through the SARS-CoV-2 crisis.
While his interests are primarily related to health care, health care reform, and ethical issues, as a citizen of our United States and our world, he will occasionally opine on issues of our "time and destiny". Follow on Twitter @ajlayon
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