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Almost everyone on the planet has been through that harrowing experience where they, someone they know, or someone in their vicinity has been subject to some form of violence. A lot of us know all too well the feeling of helplessness or panic that comes with experiencing a violent situation. It could be something as ubiquitous as street-harassment, or it something as covered-up as domestic violence.
We know that there is no excuse for violence, and we know that violence should never be allowed to happen. So, as witnesses or bystanders to a violent situation, what could we do to stop it from happening?
We took a walk around the Breakthrough office and asked our team members what they would do if they witnessed a violent situation. Some of us had a plan of action, some of us had already taken action. There were many, many ideas, suggestions and actions but, at the same time, there was only one central theme: INTERRUPT and INTERVENE.
Here are 16 suggestions and ideas on how you could take that first step from being a Bystander to an Upstander actively helping to stop Violence Against Women in your family and community:
Important Note: While we have tried to suggest safe ways to intervene in cases of violence against women, we do not recommend doing anything that makes you feel unsafe or threatened.
Upstander Action 1: Call The Police – Perhaps the most obvious, yet most overlooked action you could take. When researchers studied the Bystander Effect, in a time of crisis, an individual among a group of people was even reluctant to dial three digits to call for help. This may be because of apathy or desensitisation from having seen this happen over and over again, it may be because you expect someone else to do it, or it may be because you fear the police will bombard you with endless questions. Remember that what seems like an everyday occurrence to you is a recurring terror to someone else. Remember, in the time you’re debating whether or not to make that call, everyone else is wondering the same thing.
Upstander Action 2: File A Report – Many countries have laws that protect against various forms of violence. In India, the PWDVA (Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act) allows for anyone to file a complaint on behalf of a woman suffering from domestic violence without making the person liable to any sort of interrogation or questioning. The authorities then take up the issue with individual on whose behalf it is filed. It’s a little bit of effort towards making someone else’s life a lot easier.
Upstander Action 3: Take It Up With Your Community – This is especially relevant when it comes to forms of Violence Against Women, such as domestic violence, that are often hidden from the public eyes (and ears) but audible to neighbours and fellow community members. Most neighbourhoods have some kind of a welfare association for residents, or similar administrative body. Bring it up in a monthly meeting, or contact the administrative head. After all, the purpose of a welfare association is in its name. Take action as a group and make sure the survivor knows they are not alone – that you can and are willing to help.
Upstander Action 4: Use a Prop – This action is especially useful in public situations where you are being harassed by someone invading your personal space. This story comes in from one of our team members who, when she realised her sister was being pushed up against on a crowded bus, made use of a hardbound book in her possession, positioning it just so. When the harasser next tried to push himself on to her sister, she heard a yelp.
Upstander Action 5: Walk Through the Scene – You can do this alone or with some friends to bring more public scenes of violence to a halt. In the most literal sense of interrupting violence, you physically walk between the two arguing parties. Obviously not recommended for very, very heated situations, but if the two people are some distance apart, you could walk right between them serving as a brief visual distraction to the perpetrator. If you are with a group of friends you could do this one at a time constantly, albeit briefly, interrupting the violence.
Upstander Action 6: Take A Photo – Another one for a public place that may work alone or in a group, but to be done with caution. Use your mobile phone(s) to take a picture of the abuse taking place. Don’t stick around too long after doing this, and instead get your photograph(s) out to the nearest authority. You could also post it online, but do so carefully and at your own discretion.
Upstander Action 7: Become the Harassee – If you see someone being harassed in public, and aren’t threatened by the harasser, why not cover for them? Even if you are a beefy man, pretend to take the catcalls as aimed at you. Glare at the harasser, go up to them and ask them what they want, or do whatever else you feel might throw them off.
Upstander Action 8: Harass the Harasser – This is good in a group. If you see someone being harassed, why not react to the harasser and let them know how it feels and throw a few catcalls their way? Loudly proclaim that sexual harassment is not acceptable and their behavior must stop. Rather than coming across as endorsing harassment, the aim should be to bring this disgraceful behavior to light, and publicly shame the harasser.
Upstander Action 9: Talk to the Harasser – Ever feel objectified by catcalls or comments thrown your way? Why not prove you are a sentient being AND that you believe the harasser is one too? Instead of ignoring the harasser or yelling back, you could go up to them and, well, have a conversation. Ask them what kind of music they like, if they’ve read any good books lately, or where they got their shoes from. See if you can have a conversation with them for a minute or two, then say you’re getting late and wave goodbye.
Upstander Action 10: Raise Your Voice – If #9 isn’t working, then up the ante. Raise your voice when talking to a harasser. Ask them what they want, why they did what they did, what they meant by what they said, and what you think of them. Do it all within earshot of the passing public and, ideally, in the presence of some form of authority.
Upstander Action 11: Be A Friend – If one in three women has faced violence some time in her life, chances are you know a perpetrator of violence against women. People who are violent do not live in a vacuum, and even couples in violent relationships move in social circles. You owe it to yourself, to women, and even to men everywhere to be a firm friend (or even acquaintance). Let anyone you suspect of violence or harassment know that disrespectful behavior towards women is not cool, that they are lower in your eyes for behaving the way they do, and that you will not tolerate their actions.
Upstander Action 12: Wit As Weapon – If you’ve got a sharp tongue, congratulations! You’re armed against street harassment no matter where you go. While talking back is likely to exacerbate situations of domestic violence, in public spaces (and especially in combination with #10), it could be an effective way to clam up anyone you see acting disrespectfully towards women.
Upstander Action 13: Be From Out Of Town – You have greater freedom to act if you’re in a new place, though you might feel less inclined too. Intervening in a case of violence – domestic or otherwise – is not as laden with consequences (“what if I run into them again?”) if you are not a local. If you see a case of violence taking place in a strange city, go up to the people involved, armed with a Lonely Planet for added Lost Tourist appeal, and ask the perpetrator for directions to a restaurant, bar, amusement park…anywhere.
Upstander Action 14: Make A Racket – Public spat not letting you enjoy your walk? Turn the music up. Not on your headphones, but on external speakers. As always, the aim is to bring the attention of the public to the perpetrator of violence and to let them know they are being watched. Got friends? Out-loud the violence. Have a block party, if you must.
Upstander Action 15: Occupy Time – Useful for cases of domestic violence, especially when you know the violence takes place at a specific time. Spend some time with the survivor of violence. Even if you’re just over every evening for half an hour to have a cup of tea with them, that’s half an hour their partner is not attacking them. This also makes it evident to the attacker that you, and therefore others, know what they are doing. Just knowing that they are being watched may be enough to stop the violence from occurring.
Upstander Action 16: Ring the Bell/Knock on the Door – We may want to pretend it doesn’t exist, or call it a personal issue, but the sound of a situation of domestic violence is unmistakable. There is no excuse for ignoring it. Before you do any of the above, consider going over and ringing the bell. You don’t need to stick around if the sounds of violence subside, but you could stay on to ask for a something neighbourly, like a cup of sugar.