“Should I Help if I See a Woman Being Harassed?”

On 18 June 2014, Redditor ImOnaBusNYC asked, “Should I help if I see a woman being harassed?” This is his full query:

“I was on a bus yesterday, and there was a man who wouldn’t leave a woman alone. It slowly progressed from his loud conversation with his buddy obliquely referencing her, to calling her the ‘prettiest girl on the bus’ to offering to buy her stuff at a nearby department store. He also moved physically closer to her in a way that seemed like it was invading her personal space.

“She didn’t tell him to stop, and even occasionally smiled at his antics. But when she declined his offer to buy stuff at the department store for the third time, I decided to say something. I’m not sure that was the right decision. He got pretty aggro [aggressive] after that and some other people on the bus jumped in and there was a big argument.

“Am I supposed to intervene here? If I say something and he gets physical, it’s pretty much on me that I brought on more trouble than just ignoring him might have. On the other hand, a lot of those articles about #yesallwomen told me not to stand by while this kind of stuff happens.”

Here are some replies:

• littlestray (self-identified as a woman) wrote, “Short answer: maybe

“Long answer: you may potentially escalate the situation and/or endanger yourself and the woman if you aren’t careful. Conflict resolution is a delicate art. Use your judgment.

“The more discreet your intervention is, the better. Simply turning and talking to the woman as though she’s someone you know may be enough to ward off harassers.”

• theodore_boozevelt wrote, “A guy did this to me once. It was a lifesaver. He turned to me and said ‘Elizabeth??? I haven’t seen you in forever! Did your brother graduate yet?’

“My name isn’t Elizabeth, and I don’t have a brother. But my new ‘friend’ moved closer to me and we began a conversation about how my brother is going to graduate in May, but he might not pass his required biology class because he smokes too much weed. Creepy guy was deterred. I got off the bus and thanked my new friend, offered to buy him coffee but he had to run.”

• vintagesheets wrote, “I am a girl and I rescued another girl once this same way. I asked the guy next to her if I could sit next to her because I knew her, (I didn’t really). He moved and I sat next to the girl and made small talk. She thanked me. This was all on a bus as well.”

• buttuglyhottie wrote, “It would be really cool of you if you did, if you see a woman who you definitely think cannot handle the current situation she’s in, but it may take a bit of weighing up the situation.

“A lot of the time, women can handle situations like this themselves. If they can, it’s probably better to not get involved. But yeah … if you notice that they can’t, doing something would be great.

“You don’t always have to say something to the harasser either. I have a pretty cool story from when I was around 15 years old about this:

“I was walking home from a friend’s house once and this guy who saw me walking was bothering me. Just following me and saying crap (‘Where you going?’ ‘Where did you come from?’ ‘Hey, nice night, right?’). I started to feel quite intimidated … the guy wasn’t touching me or anything, but it was dark at night along the street and [he was] following me … yeah. I just felt nervous and he would not let up. He followed me for quite a while.

“We passed a pub, and a group of guys were having a cigarette and a drink or whatever outside the front door. Walked a little further past them, the guy was still following me closely and saying stuff.

“Then, one of the guys I just passed walked very quickly up to me, ignored the guy, and said to me, ‘Excuse me, do you have the time?’ I said yes, and told him. He struck up a light conversation, still ignoring the harassing guy, who just stood there watching (waiting for him to leave?).

“Eventually the ‘what’s the time?’ guy said to me, ‘Hey, my girlfriend was looking for shoes just like yours! She’s in the pub, do you want to come in there and tell her where you got them?’ I jumped on the chance and said yes, and went in with him to the crowded pub. (complete bullsh[*]t excuse, the shoes I was wearing were ratty old trainers that I still wear. Hahaha! God those things have lasted an age.)

“When I got in there, he asked me if I was okay and that it looked like I was uncomfortable when I walked past, which is why he thought to take a chance and come see if I was okay. His girlfriend wasn’t even there that night. Then one of his friends and the friend’s girlfriend who were there asked where I lived, and then offered to walk me home.

“I really, really, really f[**]king appreciated the actions of ‘What’s-the-time?’ guy. Like, massively. HUGEly.

“Of course I could have just ran into the pub on my own without this guy coming to ‘help’ me, just to get into a crowd and away from the following-guy … but the thing is, sometimes in situations like that you just do not think straight if you’re nervous/scared. You don’t really know what to do for the best.

“Of course I was young then so probably more in need of ‘help’, but if a guy helped me in that way even at age 25 I’d still appreciate it. I wouldn’t need ‘escorting home’ anymore, but the initial help of ‘What’s-the-time?’ guy in a similar situation these days would still be appreciated. I’m the type who would still get nervous and not be able to think straight in those situations, even though I’m older.

“So … yeah. If you do see a situation you want to help with, you don’t necessarily have to do it by confronting the harasser. You can just give an uncomfortable person who is being harassed a ‘way out’ … or intervene in a way that doesn’t even involve interacting with the harasser. To me, that would be the most important thing.”

• 2Weird2Live2Rare2Die wrote, “I think a lot of these answers delineate an important distinction: who has the agency? If you swoop in and take over, substituting your presence for the harasser’s, it might not be taken well by either party. She may feel like you’re just another predator vying for the kill, and he may feel … well, the same.

“The suggestions of giving her a way out are phenomenal partly because they’re non-confrontational, but also because they leave the agency in her hands. Instead of effectively saying ‘you will now engage with me’ to her, you’re saying, ‘Here’s a way to disengage from him if you want it’. For the harasser’s part she’s being given a clear and acceptable way of saying ‘I am not interested’ that’s ironically more clear (to him) than the actual words ‘I am not interested’, all without being an overt and potentially offensive (to him) rejection.

“In short, don’t be a white knight coming to slay this dragon for her; just be an ally offering her an option she can choose or not choose to employ in order to remove herself from the situation.”

 For More Information: ImOnaBusNYC, “Should I help if I see a woman being harassed?” Reddit. AskWomen. 18 June 2014

http://tinyurl.com/mo3j5jm

and

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskWomen/wiki/harassment

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