The Sexist

How Bystanders Can Help Groping Victims

fig2Say you're riding home on the Metro, minding your own business, when you just so happen to notice a guy repositioning himself to better rub his erection against a stranger's back. You've just become a witness to a sexual assault. Now what do you do? Commenter m the great posed the question after a recent column: "If I see someone being mistreated like that in public, what could I possibly do to help?"

Excellent question.

Yesterday, I spoke with Lauren Taylor, lead instructor of Defend Yourself, a D.C.-based self-defense organization that shops around "skills for stopping harassment, abuse, and assault." Taylor, who has over 25 years of experience teaching self-defense, offers some tips for bystanders who find themselves witnesses to harassment or assault, and want to do something about it:

* Look out for number one. "Always think about your own safety first," Taylor says. "Look at who’s around who could back you up if necessary. If you're inside, say at a bar or social event, figure out where the doors are."

* Speak to the victim. "When you're thinking about intervening, address the person you think is being targeted," Taylor says. "Say to her, 'Are you OK?' Or, 'Can I do anything?' Or, 'Do you want to come with me?' This won't necessarily solve the situation, but it will let her know that there are other options. It will let her know that people are seeing what’s happening, and it lets the harasser know the same thing. There are witnesses, and it’s not going to go unnoticed."

* Make a scene. "For example, you could draw attention to it by saying something like, 'This guy is putting his hands all over her!' Or, 'This guy is harassing her!' and that could draw enough attention to the situation that the harasser would cut it out," Taylor says. "Airing any of these things, and making them more visible, will ultimately make them better."

"Now, the harasser may respond by saying, 'Who are you? This has nothing to do with you! She doesn’t mind!,'" Taylor says. "But you still have transformed what’s going on, and possibly made it safer. The harasser talking back doesn’t mean it didn’t work."

* Even if the victim doesn't ask for help, you can still do something. "Like with everything, it totally depends on the situation," Taylor says. "Especially if it’s a partner thing, you may hear the victim respond, 'Oh, I’m okay, go away.' But I still think it makes a difference that it was noticed and recognized."

"There’s no prescription for anything in self-defense," Taylor says. "It’s the options that are empowering, not the solution. I can't promise that any one thing will work, but I can give you the things to try, whether the target asks you for help, or whether you say, 'this looks unacceptable, and I’m going to check it out.'"

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  • Typical DC BS

    Best thing is to ask the "victim" if she's OK. I've asked several women if they were OK after I saw them get pinched / slapped / groped. Some of the responses were not what I expected.

    I almost got into a fight with one woman who was being manhandled by a boyfriend. Even though she was bleeding from the mouth and nose, she screamed at me to leave her boyfriend alone. When the cops arrived, she and her boyfriend tried to have a group of us arrested for interfering in their "business".

  • Former Staffer

    grad his testicles if you can and squeeze until they pop.

    by castrating him, not only have you avenged society, hi damaged testes will likely never produce testosterone again, preventing his future recidivism.

  • m

    Thanks a lot for the post Amanda. Fortunately I've never seen this happen to someone, but I feel a lot more prepared if I do.

    Dropping "the great" for people who don't get the reference to Emma-Lee Moss.

  • Bystander

    Cops know that showing up at a domestic dispute is one of the most dangerous things they do because the dynamics are unpredictable. Even a spouse (usually but not always the woman) who has been assaulted might not want to see his/her meal ticket dragged off to jail, or might be terrified of the consequences when he gets out. In the public circumstances that this writer is describing, I would say that the first step is to observe whether the woman appears to WANT help. Is she trying to move away from someone, and he's holding on to her or following her? Or is she arguing with someone she obviously knows? Helping one stranger is completely different from stepping between two halves of a couple. Also, a woman who is the subject of unwanted attention like this needs to clearly say “Get away from me!” or tell bystanders “I need help!” or “call 911!” People who might be willing to help shouldn't have to read her mind, and it's hard for bystanders to know what to do if she's not responding herself.

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  • kyle

    I live in Chicago and have caught two pederasts in the act on the CTA and whilst eating lunch in Millenium Park during the same summer! Each instance caused me to I flip out and make a scene, then I proceeded to create an exit out of the situation for the women. Both ladies HESITANTLY agreed to move away, I think mostly from plain embarrassment (or possibly because of how confrontational I was being with the offender). Both men in each instance completely denied any wrong doing and were quite upset with me, which proves to be quite manipulative because I really makes me question what I witnessed as well as what each women experienced. Both men were also were preying on "bookish" females who aren't the typical "bombshell's" that make garbage men hoot and holler. Again, so darn manipulative. Either way, it felt rad calling these creeps out and doing the right thing, plus as a bonus these events always serve as a great story for the good folks involved.

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  • http://panoptifier.blogspot.com BioGal

    Could you please modify this article to allow that non-females are also the victims of harrassment? As a woman, I celebrate the efforts being made to make the world safer, but these efforts are for everyone's well-being - men, women, intersex and transgendered persons alike.

    Also, drawing attention to the victim might worsen the event - just as an assault victim might feel more exposed, vulnerable and violated by the case coming to court and being heard in front of a room full of lawyers and jurists.

    Surely, there is a better way that does not require announcing that this person has been harrassed and hurt. Perhaps some guerilla action: shout out 'I suspect this person of being a harrasser - you might want to move away from them in crowded areas' - and make them responsible for denying the charge as necessary.

    A more passive-aggressive option is to make stickers that say the same message and place one the harrasser's back when they leave the scene - others will notice it and they too will find it later - maybe they will think again about their behaviour.

  • http://www.oldfeminist.com oldfeminist

    The question was about a victim who didn't even know she was a victim yet. How would asking her "do you need help?" have helped? She'd be all "what do you mean?"

    Once you've determined that you are safe, make it obvious you can see what's going on. Say something.
    In this particular case you would look the guy in the eye and say, hey, what are you doing? You could also point and say, look at what he's doing. Drawing attention (the third point) is often quite effective.

    Yes, if it's a domestic dispute, it's quite possible that a woman will say "leave us alone" even as she's getting beaten up. So what?

    Don't let one rejection shut you up forever. The fact is, the more people respond to such activities negatively, the less likely offenders are to think that what they're doing is okay and for victims to think that what's happening is normal.

    Biogal, I like the sticker idea!

  • merrimac

    If your harasser is a female...then what ? Inquiring males want to know...a clit kick perhaps...a boob bite..perhaps...I mean...all things being fair as a gay male who couldn't care less about females or their sexual advances...I know how fair and equal minded youall are...so where's the good advice from you to me on how to incompassitate one of your own ? All things being equal...

  • Sarah

    merrimac, don't try to be cute. First of all, none of the advice posted above is necessarily sex-specific. You could call out a female just as you could call out a male.

    But it doesn't really matter, does it? It's basic, common knowledge that most harassers are male. This isn't a "from my experience only" statement or a man-hating rant-- the fact is backed up study after study, year after year, again and again. I highly doubt that as a man you have experienced even a fraction of the street harassment the average female has. You say "all things being equal..." but obviously they're NOT. We're not wasting our time teaching you how to protect yourself from a female offender because it's probably not going to happen. Is it possible? Sure. But so is anal probing from an alien and we're not getting into that, either. This shouldn't be shocking to you.

  • Roane

    I am a victim! You're a victim! We are all victims! You know a poster on another said that people here could find rape in a bowl of alphabet soup; I'm thinking he was right.

    Ahh yes street harassment, I'm thinking that's more in your heads than anything else.

  • jf1

    "“Now, the harasser may respond by saying, ‘Who are you? This has nothing to do with you! She doesn’t mind!,’”"

    Rule #1: don't get into stupid arguments with stupid people. The goal is to make *you* the problem. Don't allow yourself to get sidetracked.

  • SK

    Great post. As I have commented on other articles, as someone who has, in milder, but still real, scenarios acted like a predator, I am committed to stopping these groping incidents now, and would be happy to help. Thanks for the tips.

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