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How Can I help?

or how to intervene in a situation where you witness harassment and/or discrimination .

Have you ever been in a situation where you've witnessed someone being actively discriminated by someone else? Let's say that you're in a store, and the cashier makes some racist remarks about the Asian family in front of you. How would you react? would you say something, or do you keep quiet to keep the peace? How do you show that family that you are on their side?

Being a bystander when other people are being harassed, it's very upsetting for most people. Every instinct on your body tells you to not get involved. Depending on the type of harassment, it can be downright dangerous to confront these people, or at the very least extremely uncomfortable. You might feel ashamed, and sad for the victim. You might feel like there's nothing you can do, or that it might make it worse if you speak up. Sometimes people would speak up, but they don't. and they wish they'd have done something afterwards.

Sometimes, speaking up is the right thing to do. Sometimes it's better, for everyone's safety, to help the victims feel supported after the attacker is gone. You have to assess the situation, and decide which route you need to take.

I've compiled a few tips of what to do in these difficult situations, so we're ready if and when it happens. With violence against minorities escalating in our country lately, it is important that we are all prepared.

What can I DO?

Being an ally in these situations is hard. You want to help, but sometimes don't know how to help. The best course of action, according to experts, is to assess the situation and follow your instincts on what needs to be done. Every situation is different, every victim is different. Stop and listen before you blindly jump in.

Make your presence known

You don't need to speak to do this. Communicate with your body language that you are paying attention. Look directly at the attacker and/or the victim. Hold your phone in your hand- be ready to film the confrontation if needed. If it's safe, speak up. Stand up, move closer if needed and safe, anything that would communicate that you are present- and listening. Sometimes this is enough to silence the attacker, as they don't want to be judged by their peers.

Take cues from the individual being harassed

Look at the person being attacked, try to read their body language. Do they seem scared? confused or angry? Sometimes it is best to support people by just being there, without jumping in to try to save them. Listen to the conversation and follow their lead. This is not about you, or how heroic you are, or how you feel about the situation - be humble and listen, and be ready to support this person whichever way THEY need.

By all means, always keep both of you safe

Always assess a situation before you jump in. Sometimes is safer to just wait, and see how it all develops. Sometimes it's not. Read the room. Assess your environment, look around- is there other people that could help? Is it possible for you and the victim to move to a safer place? Be cautious about how to intervene. Remember the four Ds- Distract, Delegate, Direct, Delay.

Distract the attacker

Sometimes, engaging the attacker so they focus their attention on something else might help. But that doesn't always work, and most of us might feel too self conscious to actually speak up. Depending on the situation, you can do things to distract them. Stand up and block the attacker's view, for example. Drop an object to the ground, by "accident", and make a big deal about it. Start an unrelated conversation with the attacker or the victim, if it's safe to do so. Pretend you know them, ask them questions about something. Distraction is a powerful tool, because it's subtle and usually non confrontational, and sometimes derails their train of thought, de-escalating the situation.

Delegate and rally up more people to help

Directly engage other people, either by making them aware that the harassment is taking place if they have not noticed, or by making eye contact with others present. Make noise, call attention to the altercation if it's safe to do so. Involve other people in your conversation if possible. The idea is to communicate to the attacker that the victim is not alone, and that they are in the wrong. If safe, and the situation requires it, have someone distract the attacker while you take the victim away from them. This works better if the person, or people, that you engage to help have more perceived authority- alert a manager in the store, or the bus driver, or a teacher for example.

Direct the attention of the attacker elsewhere

When it's safe to do so, respond directly to the attacker. Be assertive and calm, confident. Ask them to stop their behavior. Engage them in conversation so they divert their attention to you, and other people- and away from the victim. Always make sure everyone involved is safe, including you, when doing this. As always, assess the situation and read the room and their body language.

Delay intervention if necessary

Sometimes, as much as we would like to help, it is simply not possible. It might be unsafe for all parties to do so. Sometimes all you can do is communicate to the victim with your body language that you know what's happening, and that you're there to support them. Once it's safe, when the harasser has moved on for example, ask the victim if they are ok, if they need your help- ask them what they want you to do to help. One time, I saw someone get off a bus with a victim to prevent their attacker from continuing their harassment. They stood by them until the victim boarded another bus. Always follow their cues, always ask them what should be done. Stay back to explain to the authorities what happened, if applicable. Support the victim in the ways they need to be supported after everything is said and done.

What NOT to do?

That said, sometimes people with good intentions might make a situation that was already difficult even worse by doing the wrong things, at the wrong times. We need to approach these situations with a calm, clear head. Think before you act.

DON'T call the police

This might seem like the best solution to you, but we have to think about what would happen if we do call. If you've been watching the news for the last few years, I don't have to explain to you what their intervention might mean to a person of color. This might also enrage the attacker even further, making the situation worse for all involved. Know that sometimes the police could present a greater danger to all involved, including the person being harassed. You can call the non-emergency line later if that makes you feel better, once everyone is safe- and the victim has left.

DON'T make the situation worse by adding fuel to the fire

Do not insult the attacker, or add to the confrontation in any way. Do not try to fight this person, or antagonize them. By all means, communicate to this person both with your words and actions that their behavior is unacceptable, but do so calmly. Don't match their energy. It is always better to de-escalate a situation. Getting into a fight with the attacker doesn't help anyone, and might put more people in danger. Be smart and follow the four Ds.

DON'T say or do nothing. Silence and/or inaction is tacit approval

If all you can do is communicate with your eyes to the victim that you are on their side, do so. Don't try to ignore the situation in the hopes that it would resolve itself on its own. The worst part of being harassed, in my opinion, is the feeling of being alone in the crowd, not knowing if others are on the attacker's side. Do what's safe at the moment- and always ask the victim afterwards if they are ok. If you don't feel safe intervening within earshot of the harasser- be proactive and find an authority figure to help you, or other people to back you and the victim off. Follow the four Ds, always.

Be aware of the bystander effect- Don't wait for someone else to do something, because most times they are also waiting for someone else to act. Be the person that helps. And call out the people in your life that say or do things like these, educate them so they don't become aggressors when you're not around. It is our job to make this a better place, I think. We all should do what we can to make sure of that.


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