Stop hate in its tracks with Hollaback's bystander intervention techniques - Metro US

Stop hate in its tracks with Hollaback’s bystander intervention techniques

Amanda Mikelberg

An empty subway car is every bit as threatening, if not more so, than a crowded one. A harasser can direct attention at one person, and there’s nobody else to judge or intervene, explains Debjani Roy, deputy director at Hollaback!, a global organization that mobilizes anti-harassment activism.

“People around you can be your defense,” Roy said. “But you can feel just as alone in a crowded space as an empty one if nobody intervenes,” Roy told Metro.

Hollaback!, which launched in 2005 and now has chapters all over the world, is underscoring its bystander intervention tactics because ofthe “political climate since the election that’sinspired harassment and hate violence.” It’s giving people the tools to fight the abuseon the street,on campuses and online.

To combat online persecution, Hollaback! created itsiHeartMob platform where people may report instances of harassment, request for help —and get support.

Roy referred to a December video of a white woman at a Kentucky JCPenny spewing her hatred at a Hispanic woman as many witness stood idly by during the tirade.

“Go back to wherever the f— you come from, lady,” the customer said, and told the cashier, “Tell them to go back to where they belong!”

“From our own reports to figures published last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hate crimes since Nov. 8 spiked across the country towards every group,” she said. In New York City, the harassment has manifested both directly, such as the couple who bullied a young woman wearing a headscarf on a Manhattan bus, and indirectly, such as the numerous anti-Semitic acts of vandalism around the city.

“Sometimes it’s an overlap of the multiple communities we belong to, me being a South Asian immigrant woman, I’ve been targeted based on being a woman but also being an immigrant, and been told to go back to my country when I don’t respond favorably to sexual harassment,” Roy told participants in her Jan. 4 webinar.

“From the moment we wake up in the morning, log on to social media, leave the house to go to wherever we need to go, we are at risk of harassment in almost every public space we enter,” Roy saidas she segued into Hollaback!’s Four Ds primer on bystander intervention.

Hollaback! provides webinars, advocates for officials to adapt anti-harassment programs, and gives live seminars to unions, corporations and universities todemonstrate the ways that people can de-escalate instances of harassment and hate as it occurs.

“The whole point of this training is to know what to do when we see this happening to someone else,” she said.

Their “Four Ds” training provides the most effective ways to take a stand: Direct, Distract, Delegate, and Delay.

While sitting on a 2 Train, Roy recalledher own distressing experiences: Once a man sat across from her holding a newspaper in front of his lap, and then appeared to be unzipping his pants. Roy looked away, but he continued his lewd behavior while leering at her. Another time, a friendly interaction with a construction worker who was often at her subway station turned into prolonged harassment and confrontations that forced her to take a much longer alternate route.

“From Kolkata to London to New York, I’ve seen all kinds of harassment, had different experiences in different parts of the world,” she said. “But everywhere it’s the same dynamic, power of one group over another— men thinking that they have power over a woman — and we’re trying to turn that norm on its head.


DIRECT: Direct action is confronting the harasser. If you feel bold, if you and everyone else is safe from physical harm, if you are prepared for a backlash you can take these steps:

  • Tell the harasser to stop, that what he is doing is disrespectful, disgusting or illegal
  • Threaten to summon authorities
  • Take a photo or video and let the harasser know you are recording them

DISTRACT: A subtle way to take attention away from the harassment, and diffuse an incident by interrupting it without confrontation:

Talk to the person being harassed in a friendly way. Pretend to be lost, ask for the time, or pretend to be a neighbor.

Physically get in the way but continue to do what you are doing — such as passively eating potato chips

DELEGATE: Delegation is helpful as a bystander because you can bring more support to the person by asking someone for help.

  • Ask a store supervisor, transit worker or security person, faculty member to intervene.
  • Call 311 or 911 and ask for help
  • Give another bystander an assignment while you do something else helpful

DELAY: When you can’t get involved in the incident as it occurs, wait until later to help the person.

  • Ask them if they are OK and that you are sorry for what happened to them
  • Ask if there is any way you can support them
  • Offer to accompany them to their destination or sit with them for awhile
  • Share resources with them and offer to make a report if they want to.

More from our Sister Sites