This Is What You Should Do if You See Someone Being Sexually Harassed

Simple steps can help derail an incident.

Indian women hug and wish each other during a march on International Women's Day in New Delhi, India, March 8, 2018.
Manish Swarup/AP

We know that the only people who can really stop sexual harassment happening are the people actually harrassing others. But experts say we can all play a role in lessening the emotional impact on those who are targeted.

One factor that made the case of Hollywood produce Harvey Weinstein — which sparked the #MeToo movement last year — so shocking, is that so many people knew about the assaults and harassment, and did nothing.

It’s known as the “ bystander effect ” or “bystander apathy,” and it describes the social phenomenon of being being less likely to help a victim when there are a lot of other people around.

There are lots of reasons bystanders might choose to ignore a situation — because you don’t feel empowered to do something, you don’t know what to say or do to resolve a situation, or because you don’t want to seem patronising or like you’re shoving your nose into something that isn’t your business.

But, in reality, the most important thing is making sure the victim knows that they aren’t alone.

So, whether you witness someone being sexually harassed in the street, at work, on the bus, wherever, what can you to help?

1. Assess the situation

Before you do anything, you need to work out exactly what the situation is and how best you can intervene. It’s very important that you don’t put yourself in harm’s way, as it could cause the situation to escalate.

Ask yourself are you safe? Is the person being harassed at threat of physical harm? Will intervening directly make things worse? Are there other people around who can support you?

2. Direct intervention

If you think it’s safe to do so, you can intervene in the harassment directly. That means directly addressing the person who’s doing the harassing. It’s key to be firm , don’t apologise for interrupting their behaviour.

According to Hollaback! , a global movement to end harassment, it’s important to stick to saying something that feels natural to you.

Some example are: “That’s harassment,” or “don’t talk to them like that,” or “that’s inappropriate.” What you say doesn’t have to be smart or witty, it only needs to make the person aware that what they’re doing is wrong.

If the harasser responds, says Hollaback , don’t engage in an argument. Instead, interact with the person who is being harassed.

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