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This past weekend, Hollaback! Boston held their first ever comprehensive volunteer training. Among other things, we discussed definitions of street harassment, looked at a timeline of anti-street harassment victories throughout history, compiled various responses to street harassment and practiced methods of bystander intervention. I’ve been working with Hollaback! since May and I still came away with new information. To me, this emphasized the point that activism, with Hollaback! and beyond, is a never-ending process. There will always be more to learn, and we can all be those teachers.
That being said, while I think that attending a formal training workshop is beneficial for many reasons, it’s not the only way to educate yourself. What I mean to say is: if you couldn’t attend our training, don’t let that stop you from interrupting street harassment when you see it. First off, you can check out more of our website. We have tons of information and tips on everything related to street harassment. Is there a question that we haven’t answered? Ask us! Also, remember that we are just one voice among so many organizations. Click on “Getting Help” under our Resources tab to find out about these other amazing advocates.
I’ve had a lot of conversations with my peers recently about intervening in violent incidents. Violence can be physical, emotional or something else entirely. Workplace harassment is a form of violence. Racial slurs are a form of violence. We are taught that if we see something, we should say something. But, for one reason or another, that’s not always how it works. First of all, sometimes intervening can put us in danger. We should always assess the situation before intervening. Putting one’s body on the line is not always what makes the most sense. Second of all, sometimes we assume that someone else will intervene. This is human nature, social psychology shows that, but we should all be making active efforts to get out of this mindset. Assuming that someone else will step in is too risky and has, quite literally, killed people, Kiity Genovese and Connor and Brandon Moore, just to name a few.
However, the third excuse that I hear is one that we can fix right here, right now, with a change in attitude. The excuse is this: people feel as though they can’t intervene because they don’t have the vocabulary or the academic grounds on which to base their arguments. I’ve been guilty of using this one myself. But here’s the secret: IT DOESN’T MATTER! You don’t need to have read the State Department’s report on gender-based violence or be able to quote the latest Feministing article in order to be an active bystander. Using a lack of knowledge or experience as an excuse for not speaking up isn’t fair. It’s not fair to the person being harassed and it’s not fair to you. If you have assessed the situation and you feel safe speaking up, you can always say “Stop” or “Don’t say that” or “Don’t do that.” What you say doesn’t need to be a persuasive essay, and it may not stop harassers in the end, but at least you have marked the moment. You’ve made it clear that at least one person is offended. Moreover, you’ve validated the experience of the person being harassed. To that person, your few words can make all the difference in the world.
It’s one thing if you don’t feel safe, but you should never let an internalized sense of inexperience keep you quiet. I’m here to tell you that you all already have everything you need. If you want bonus stuff, that’s what we’re here for.
image credit: Kate Ziegler
Many thanks to HI-Boston for hosting our volunteer training in their beautiful community-accessible space!
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