Stand up to harassment – don’t escalate the situation

Verbal Harassment

I have some reservations about the safety pin movement that I wrote about in another post. With those caveats, here are some suggestions for situations where you notice that someone is verbally harassing another person:

  1. Assess the situation for physical risk to the harassed person and to you. Ask yourself ahead of time, do you have any skills assessing risk? If not, you might educate yourself about risk assessment.
  2. Do you have de-escalation skills? If not, you might want to educate yourself, and practice.
  3. What if the harassment escalates to physical violence? Do you have a plan on what to do?
  4. If the harasser is threatening to hurt the person physically, your best option might be to call 911. I say “might” because the harassed person might not agree that law enforcement is the best option.
  5. If your assessment is that there is no immediate physical danger, you could start by asking the targeted person if there is anything you can do for them. Don’t make assumptions.
  6. You might ignore the harasser while you support the targeted person by simply standing with them or engaging them in friendly small talk, such as talk about the weather. In some situations that might be the safest and most effective action to take. More effective and safer than engaging with harassers. The harasser may leave. On the other hand, ignoring harassers can also empower them. They also may turn their aggression to you. Are you prepared for that possibility? How?
  7. You might support the targeted person by being a witness which might cause the harasser to stop. Sometimes, people take video to deter harassers, a strategy that may or may not work, and that may also put you at risk.
  8. Again, don’t assume that you know what the targeted person needs or wants in the situation. Don’t escalate a situation based on your need to assert yourself.
  9. For situations that are clearly non-physically threatening, you might remember NNSS for NOTICE harassing behavior, NAME the behavior, tell the harasser to STOP, and SUPPORT the targeted person. But this is a simple framework, which may be appropriate only for relatively benign situations.
  10. There is no panacea for verbal harassment; support the targeted person in a way that respects them and feels safe to you under the circumstances. Again, redundancy intended, don’t assume that you know what the targeted person needs and wants. And remember, what “feels safe” to you may not be.
  11. If a targeted person is visibly upset, you could ask if you can call someone for them or do anything else for them. Respect the targeted person’s autonomy.
  12. Sometimes there are creative indirect ways to support a targeted person. For instance, a woman heard that a person  at a sandwich shop asked that the sandwich be made by the white guy, not the Indian man. She made a point of asking that hers be made by the Indian man.