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How and when to intervene when you witness harassment

Natasha Aruliah, an expert in bystander intervention, shares tips on what bystanders should do when they witness harassment.

A story of a successful intervention to stop harassment on an airplane went viral this week

A viral story recently described an incident where women staff and passengers rallied around a teenage girl after a male passenger harassed her. (Shutterstock)

A viral story about an airplane "creep" has sparked online conversation about what bystanders should do when they see harassment. 

On a recent flight from Toronto to Vancouver, Star Vancouver bureau chief Joanna Chiu tweeted how a man who was seated next to a teenage girl travelling solo in the row behind her started to make inappropriate comments towards the girl and asked her for "a dirty picture." 

Eventually, women bystanders and staff rallied to protect the girl and forced him to move to a different seat. 

Natasha Aruliah, a psychologist who trains people in bystander intervention, said the passengers and crew handled the situation very well.

"They seemed to take it seriously, [acted] really quickly and promptly and were very good," Aruliah said.

She says there are a number of strategies bystanders can use in a situation like this. 

1) Take actions that you are comfortable with 

"Some of us may not feel comfortable talking directly to the person who's causing offence and therefore go to the victim or to an external person. It's important that we tackle what we can and take on what we can," she said.

2) Consider your personal safety 

"You need to assess whether you're physically safe, whether the person being targeted is physically safe, and if by intervening, it's going to escalate the situation," she said. 

Compromising your own personal safety could make the situation worse.

"[Know] yourself and what you're capable of and how much you can hold authority in intervening," Aruliah added.

3) Use power in numbers

Aruliah says in some situations where there are multiple witnesses — like on the airplane — there can be strength in working together.

"If you turn to someone and say 'can you see what's going on?' [or] 'we should do something' and tell it to a few people together to intervene, that's usually a way of de-escalating the situation, because you know then you have power [in] numbers."

4) Practise your responses

Aruliah says its common for people to see something and then come up with a good response 10 to 20 minutes after the incident and think, "oh that would have been a great thing to say in that moment."

"If we can [collect] and practice saying those responses, so that in those moments, we actually have created a pattern and a behavior that can come to us quickly," she said. 

With files from On The Coast


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