Bystanders’ Guide to Stopping Harassment!

We all want to do what’s right and help people in trouble, but sometimes that seems like a big ask. If we see people experiencing harassment, what can we do?

Paris-based illustrator Maeril tackled just that topic in her comic below, which also has a French translation available here. Maeril is a Muslim woman, and put this together to help address the issue of Islamophobia. However, her tactics are great, and work for a variety of harassment situations. We’ll go into more detail below the comic.

harassment-guide.png

  1. Engage in Conversation with the Person Being Harassed! 

IGNORE THE ATTACKER! I’m an educator, and this is something I have seen a lot in classes for educators and parents in my field. If you have a child attacking another child, you pay attention to the child being attacked, not the child attacking, at least initially. This is for several reasons. One, the child being attacked may need immediate help that you can’t see. Have they been hit, bitten, etc and need help, but are too scared to vocalize that? Two, by showing the children that the authority figures (teachers, parents, etc) value the victim and their needs more than the errant behavior of another child. Basically, it shows kids that being “bad” is less important than being hurt, or even “good”. That doesn’t mean negative behavior isn’t addressed, it’s just addressed in due time. As adults when we do this, we show people who are being targeted with hate and fear that they matter, and that bigots’ messages are irrelevant to the public at large. That doesn’t mean we won’t address what that person did, especially if police need to be called, or something of that nature. We are simply showing the person who was being targeted that they matter, and that they are safe, and checking in at a basic level to see how much help they need.

2. Pick A Random Subject and Start Discussing It.

In our society it is generally awkward to reach out to someone we don’t know and intervene in a big way, even if we see that someone needs help. I have seen so many times where there have been situations in public where a person was being bullied and harassed and others noticed and were so close to stepping in, but they just hovered on the edge because of that awkwardness. Don’t let that be you. Don’t let someone get bullied because of social convention. Pick the first thing that pops into your mind, or maybe have a predetermined subject that you discuss should the need ever arise, and plop down and start chatting with the person about Star Wars, or the weather, or shoe laces, or who cares?

3. Continue Building the Safe Space.
It’s important to continue changing the dynamic of the space. You can do this by entirely ignoring the attacker until they leave. I sometimes like to pretend that I know the person being harassed, and diminishing that feeling of isolation can also cause an attacker to leave, because it is one of the main tools of abusers, bullies, and harassers. I had an experience once riding the light rail in my hometown. I was coming home from work late one night, and there was a woman who looked inebriated sitting next to a man who kept grabbing and touching her. She would try to push him away, but she was very intoxicated, and he kept pulling her closer, and grabbing her anyway. I saw that a lot of people had noticed this too, but wavered, because it’s hard to know how to get involved. I thought, “If it were me, I would want someone to do something.” so I walked over, even though the man clearly wanted to be left alone with the woman, and I sat down next to her. “Hey!! Oh my god, I haven’t seen you in FOREVER!” I said to her, and I gave her a huge hug, and pulled her body away from his grip. She whispered in my ear “I don’t know him, help me.” He asked me “You know her?” I said “Do I KNOW her? Uh, YES! We go WAY back! Girl, you have got to come over tonight!” Which leads us to:

4. Continue the Conversation Until the Attacker Leaves and Escort them to a Safe Place if Necessarily.

The woman did get off the light rail with me that night. She said she was fine at first to just find her way home, but as we walked away from the light rail stop, to make sure the man didn’t follow her, and we talked, it seemed very much like he had put something in her drink. She was barely able to walk. I let her sleep at my apartment, and in the morning we went over to my neighbor’s for breakfast and we gave her a ride home. Don’t expect to take every person you step up for home, but maybe sometimes you will. And maybe someday it will be you getting harassed at night and you’ll be glad when someone steps in and offers to walk you to a place you feel safer, even if it’s just a more public location, or your workplace, or a couple of blocks away.

This comic was made to combat Islamophobia. The tools it provides can help us know how to stand up to people targeting many different kinds of bullying and harassment from Islamophobia, to LGBTQ people, to those who target women, people of color, or the disabled. The more we prepare ourselves the more we are able to strengthen our communities and to have the kind of place we all deserve to live in.

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