108

To be clear, this is not a situation where it is an abusive relationship. This was an interaction that took place in an impromptu manner in a public setting.

I was relaxing at an outdoor area in a local open air shopping mall, when a group of four late teens/early twenty-somethings stopped near me and began taunting someone about their assumed background and intentions based on the clothing she was wearing and skin tone (Appeared to be of Arab descent, wearing a hijab).

They didn't appear to be physically violent, their rhetoric was mainly along the lines of associating her with terrorist acts and asking "how soon before you snap?" and similar. The lady was clearly uncomfortable and refusing to engage in conversation, which seemed to encourage them to provoke some sort of reaction.

I did intervene in the conversation, choosing to talk the group directly in an attempt to get them to stop. Abuse was transferred, and even though I used moderated tones and non aggressive postures, they didn't appear willing to back down at all. Security came by and escorted the group away, so the situation was resolved.

However, is there a better way to intervene in a situation like that? Is there a way to defuse a situation such as this without the risk of escalation?

116

In this specific situation I think you did the right thing.

Well, in most situations like these, the chances of a totally peaceable resolution are slim. People who go out looking for trouble are sure to find it, particularly if they're of that age group, have those racial/political leanings, and feel they have the reassurance of their group.

The only thing I can think of that might have deescalated the situation more readily would have been to buy them a round of drinks, a method I've observed in a few bars, but do you really want to run the risk of encouraging this behavior?

I think you did the right thing because you drew the attention away from the woman towards yourself, and from your previous question I assume you're more capable of defending yourself than she might have been. You also managed to keep your cool till security arrived, which means that you managed to keep the situation from becoming violent.

All in all, this sounds like a win. You acted like a decent human being in the face of something that many others wouldn't have the courage to get involved with. You deserved some congratulations here, so there it is.

  • 2
    Yup, and by not really escalating the situation and getting to a point where security deals with them; it may actually form an impression that sticks. Quite possibly they will think nothing of it; but there's also a chance that being removed from the mall for that behaviour made them feel bad about themselves. – JMac Oct 18 '17 at 16:34
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    By taking their focus away from the woman, you do two things: She can walk away quietly, but more important: You show a (social) signal that 'we' do not stand for this kind of behaviour. – Martijn Oct 19 '17 at 8:31
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    I imagine confronting them greatly increases the risk of things turning violent, even if it's handled very carefully, especially if you're confronting a group, so this answer should probably at least come with a disclaimer - I think Monica's answer is much safer advice, in that they're more likely to just throw some insults your way as well or lose interest without turning violent. Trying to distract them is probably the best solution if your primary goal is avoiding a violent outcome (as opposed to sending a message). – NotThatGuy Oct 19 '17 at 14:22
  • 2
    How to gain enough confidence to confront this situation? On the one hand, I want to solve this efficiently and directly; on the other hand, I almost always worry if I'm wrong in whatever I'm doing, hence cannot have enough necessary confidence. – Ooker Oct 19 '17 at 20:48
  • 2
    @Ooker it's the realization that whatever they could manage to do to you isn't as bad as what they could do to them. Once you've had your face smashed in, you know what it feels like and you know if you can handle it. I know that's probably pretty bleak, but once you know it's not all that bad, it makes a difference in how you're willing to handle these things. – apaul Oct 20 '17 at 6:59
83

I haven't had occasion to use this technique since seeing it described, but this graphical guide to bystander intervention describes a non-confrontational way to help the victim. That guide was created for a specific type of case but would apply to any sort of harassment or bullying.

This site provides a transcription of the steps:

  1. Engage conversation [with the person experiencing harassment, not their attacker]. Go to them, sit beside them and say hello. Try to appear calm, collected and welcoming. IGNORE THE ATTACKER.

  2. Pick a random subject and start discussing it. It can be anything: a movie you liked, the weather, saying you like something they wear and asking where they got it…

  3. Keep building the safe space. Keep eye contact with them and don’t acknowledge the attacker’s presence: the absence of response from you two will push them to leave the area shortly.

  4. Continue the conversation until the attacker leaves and escort them to a safe place if necessary. Bring them to a neutral area where they can recollect themselves; respect their wishes if they tell you they’re ok and just want to go.

In the situation you described, you could approach the woman, say hi, start a conversation if she seems agreeable, and just generally be there. If she wants to leave, you can walk with her. After a short distance I would quietly say something like "I'll stick around as long as you like", so she has the option to say "no I'm fine" to signal that you should leave.

  • 4
    I agree with this mostly, and I want to point out you don't have to pretend to know the person being harassed. It's not exactly the same situation, but I've seen more than once a group of students inviting someone to sit with them when they're being harassed by some creep on a subway train, and it worked. If you have to engage with the harasser(s) at all, just put things in simple terms: "She's just not interested in talking with you, man. It's all good." That sort of thing. – ArrowCase Oct 18 '17 at 18:16
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    Yeah, I think this might even work better if you don't know the person, so it's clear that it's not "friends protecting friends" but, rather, a random stranger saying "no that is not ok". But that's just an impression; it's not something I've investigated. – Monica Cellio Oct 18 '17 at 19:12
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    Many years ago there were 2 teenage girls outside of my house kicking a third girl. The impression that I got was that it was retribution for some perceived slight. I raced out not knowing how to approach it and just ended up shouting and waving my arms in the hope the attackers would be scared and leave. They didn't and instead verbally attacked me and defended their actions. It was only when I asked if the third girl was OK, that the demeanour of the attackers changed completely - to realisation of their actions and concern for their 'friend'. So I support this answer, I think it could work – Jim W says reinstate Monica Oct 19 '17 at 0:18
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    "...the absence of response from you two will push them to leave the area shortly..." That is probably the crucial point here. The question is if this really works. It might also provoke the intruders to step up their efforts instead of leaving. Not sure. – Trilarion Oct 20 '17 at 11:29
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    I've been to bystander intervention training, and we got a chance to practice the techniques described in this post (in a safe environment). It was amazing just how quickly it lets the air out of an attacker if you engage with their target - and ignore the attacker COMPLETELY. – Joe White Oct 20 '17 at 20:10
5

In my opinion you only get to change such people truly if you can make them see/understand the injustice they thrive on, e.g. by (virtually) turning the tables on them - not to harass but to indicate by example how flawed their reasoning is and how mistreated one can feel by such teasing or generalizations.

For example, a couple of acquaintances play online games and are always furious when the government tries to tighten gaming laws after some youngster who happened to play any sort of violent game did (attempt) a mass shooting / killing. When they were getting caught in some heated discussions about how to best ban all the bad Arabs from wearing "Arab looking" clothing after another deluded Islamist bombed some place, a snarky remark about how lucky they are he wasn't a gamer or they would have to fight a law confiscating their games brought some silence and then at least a reduced "heat" in the following discussions.

Point being, if you can give them a way to identify with the feeling of being oppressed for no good reason, it can go a long way. I admit though this is very hard with people you just met on the street. So it's most likely not a valid answer for your exact problem, but it may work out if you know the perpetrators at least a little. There is also a fine line between blatantly blaming them for being members of another group (which will make them defensive and more aggressive) and just pointing them enough in some direction that they think for themselves about being marginalized for being in that group and hopefully being able to empathize a little and learn from it.

If not providing insight, this may also be a way to change the topic on them and their attention away from the victim. And even if it doesn't have direct effect and you need to resort to shouting them off / have them escorted away, it's at least a possibility that some of it sticks and triggers a few thoughts later on.

2

Although you have done a good deed and protected a vulnerable person from possible further harm there is a downside to your approach.

By using a non-confrontational approach the "abusers" will likely go and repeat their anti-social behaviour next time they meet a suitable "victim".

I wouldn't be surprised if they treated being escorted off the premises by the security guards as a joke.

To me their behaviour is not abuse, but racial harassment.

I understand you are in the US based on the comments to the question, but having said that, in the UK there are a number of laws potentially being broken:

The most recent legislation for dealing with neighbourhood harassment is section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 . These sections came into force 1st April 1999 and created a new type of court order known as Anti-social Behaviour Orders. Often referred to as 'ASBO's these orders are seen by the government as forming a major part of their law and order strategy. A number of changes to ASBO's were introduced by sections 61 - 66 Police Reform Act 2002 and by sections 85 - 86 of the Anti-social behaviour Act 2003

And:

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997. is the main legislation dealing with harassment. It creates 2 criminal offences (sections 2 & 4) and also authorises civil courts to award damages and make injunctions in harassment cases (section 3). Though it was passed primarily because of concern about 'stalking' the wording of the Act allows it to be used to cover other types of harassment as well as 'stalking'. This was clearly laid down by Mr Justice Collins in the High Court (Divisional Court) case of Director of Public Prosecutions v Moseley, Selvanayagam and Woodling 9th June 1999 when he said

'Whatever may have been the purpose behind the Act, its words are clear, and it can cover harassment of any sort'

...

Section 7 defines 'harassment' as including causing alarm or causing distress and states that a 'course of conduct' must involve conduct on at least 2 occasions

I would have called the police and let them deal with it. The "thugs" are less likely to repeat their behaviour if they know there is a day in court and a fine of a few hundred pounds in the near future or more severe punishments.

  • 5
    In some subsets of UK "society", ASBOs are seen as badges of honour to be collected, not as punishments. And the cash deterrent of a fine is irrelevant - if they have, or pretend they have, no money, they will merely get "community service orders" which require them to do some unpaid "work", and those are another badge of honour! – alephzero Oct 18 '17 at 18:25
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    @alephzero Unfortunately yes. Goes together with "I wouldn't be surprised if they treated being escorted off the premises by the security guards as a joke.":/ – DavidPostill Oct 18 '17 at 19:29
  • Yes but the OP is prioritizing the well being of the victim, not putting himself on the higher moral ground. Also direct approach would hardly put a dent into their beliefs or mental issues, straying a little bit from the topic, now days it looks like society is all about imposing someone else views into others (good or bad). Someone that is not a professional with those type of issues will fail all of the time to change the other person views. – Salvador Ruiz Guevara Oct 21 '17 at 18:46
  • @SalvadorRuizGuevara Whatever. The police are more professional at handling such issues than a random member of the public. – DavidPostill Oct 21 '17 at 19:42
  • sorry i meant that response for @alephzero – Salvador Ruiz Guevara Oct 21 '17 at 20:20
2

You probably won't encounter the same situation again, but if you do, act like you know the women, sit down by her and start talking to her, if you both engage in conversation, and ignore them, and treat them as if they are nuts (which they are), they will get bored and move along to harass a new victim. Most (packs) groups don't like to deal with another when they are in numbers, they single out the (one) they think are weak. If you have to speak to them sum up the weaker one and give voice to reason, they are probably the most intelligent of the group, ignore the leader even if he speaks. ask her if she would like to take a walk? walk to a populated area. If they won't back down and follow you, and you have a phone.. call the police hit speed dial, and just allow them to hear the conversation, just incase you have to defend her, and yourself. Don't lose control, but if push comes to shove break the leaders little finger and put him out of the game. have a plan, and stick to it.

  • 5
    Depending on the culture or the women's family this may actually be unsafe for them. It's always hard to tell, so it's probably best to engage the abusers as a third party rather than portray a lie that you are friends or family of the victim. – Adam Davis Oct 18 '17 at 16:50
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    I think the abuser would look upon a man as third party sticking his nose in to somewheres it don't belong, you are talking about the abusers as if they have morals or reasoning, or if they care to reason. it don't sound like it if they are brassion enough to confront a stranger and treat her like dirt. I think the family would be of grateful that he protected their love one, not angry about it. But if we don't stand up against this then those who are doing it will think this is the norm and okay, whichever choice he makes is better than letting it just go and not doing anything about it. – Amber Hart Oct 18 '17 at 18:13
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    @AmberHart - You cannot know if the abusers do or do not have morals/reasoning. (Actually you can't function in society without at least a minimal amount of reasoning ability). In addition, you can't know if they all feel that way, or if one or two are just going along with their friends. Some of your advice is good, others (letting them move on to harass others) is simplistic and does nothing to actually solve anything except make it someone else's problem. – JohnP Oct 18 '17 at 19:16
  • This is very similar to an answer here that has 41 upvotes as of this time. Granted, that answer included a reference and was well-edited, but this answer was first and includes pretty much the same tactics. I think it deserves upvotes, not downvotes. – JackArbiter Oct 19 '17 at 15:31
1

There are already several good answers, but I wanted to add a different tactic I've heard mentioned for this exact situation that I thought was brilliant.

Approach the person being harassed as if they are an old friend. Give them a big "Oh hey! Long time no see! It's great to see you again!" and start walking with them. Completely ignore the group, shut them down by giving them no attention and walking away with the victim.

I love this solution because it's completely non-confrontational. Now granted, you might badly WANT to confront the group. You might even think it's the ethical thing to do. Personally, I feel that demonstrating that this person has allies nearby and is NOT some helpless outsider whom they have free reign to bully is more immediately effective.

Generally, this will take the wind out of their sails. If they don't stop at this point, the situation may be more dangerous than anticipated. Walk with the victim to the nearest business or safe-looking location, and take whatever precautions you feel are necessary at that point.

1

If you feel safe doing it, one option is taking out your phone, launching a streaming app like Periscope, and announcing to the perpetrators that you're streaming. This establishes that there's off-location evidence of what they're doing and their identities, discouraging them from getting violent with you, and that if they continue to provide more video material, it might get used to cut their employment short, etc.

  • at least under German law this would be illegal/could be argued to be illegal (IANAL) and they probably could sue you for it. (right to one's own picture and/or privacy laws are the ones responsible for this) – Steffen Winkler Dec 1 '17 at 10:32
  • That's part of "if you feel safe doing it", but yes, legal awareness should be part of that. – R.. Dec 1 '17 at 16:35
0

I don't think so.

It is a broad situation with many factors. Did the woman do anything to provoke this kind of behaviour? What were the exact claims of the "abusers"? How persistent were they with their abuse? Would they have let go pretty quick? How did you engage them and what do you look like?

From the situation you describe I would say that this was the right thing to do. It seems like the woman was minding her own business and the group of harassers intervened without reason. I also suspect the group dynamic escalated the situation.

Your behaviour was fine too. However I would even consider to call security earlier depending on the situation. Two main concerns come to mind: - personally I am not a strong or intimidating guy, so besides reminding them of what they are doing and maybe snapping them out of it, there isn't really much I can do. But even if you are physically strong you won't be able to restrain them all) - as mentioned above the group dynamic can be quite dangerous and might even lead to physical injuries, so better get security at least in the area to respond quickly in case the verbal assault continues or escalates into physical assault

-10

Intervene, but record the situation and upload it to social media, and maybe share it with reporters and stuff. Then, there will be mass outrage about their behavior, but you'd be hailed as a hero.

You should record and publicize it because bad behavior should be punished, and this will lead to consequences for them and their family obviously. And, it showcases the racial problems that are often not reported.

Even if their behavior is worse, it's even better because it's all on camera, I'm sure you can (legally) take on some teenagers if they become violent (or get a concealed carry permit).

  • 8
    No. That fans the flames. Please don't. Just de-escalate the situation. It is possible to do. – Wildcard Oct 19 '17 at 3:26
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    People are less likely to do something stupid when recorded? You mean people are even stupider in person than what you can find on YouTube? Not by my observation, but maybe that's a commentary on who you hang out with. :D – Wildcard Oct 19 '17 at 19:48
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    @DanielGrover - This is a horrible answer, and the edit about a CCP makes it even worse. There are very narrow legal definitions about when to use a gun, and simply saying "I felt threatened" is not enough. As soon as I (or anyone else) pulls a gun, I have escalated it to lethal force level and now I am considered the aggressor in the eyes of the law. You need to learn a lot more before you start giving advice about weapon use. It should tell you something that I have been in martial arts for 30+ years and I do not carry any kind of weapon (By choice) even though I can legally do so. – JohnP Oct 20 '17 at 14:41
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    @DanielGrover - I don't need to google it. I teach it. I am VERY familiar with defense laws, what is permissible, what is not. That is the problem, YOU are googling and listening to popular media, not what is reality. And if a gun is a deterrent, why carry it concealed? – JohnP Oct 20 '17 at 15:12
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    @DanielGrover - Yes, I'm familiar with the case. As I understand it, it was deemed an expansion on the "Stand your Ground" laws emerging. You are correct, it's not 100%, but if you cannot reasonably prove that you were in legitimate fear of your life then you are legally chargeable. The shootings deemed in self defense make headlines, the others generally don't. I'd have to dig to find it again, but IIRC something 1 in 30 shootings in the US are deemed self defense. And it also changes with the training that a person has. – JohnP Oct 20 '17 at 17:47

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