The problem of violence against women, especially on public places, is that a catcall or a hurtful disagreement between two strangers might just not be our problem. Many cases of harassment have been reported with the unfortunate mention: “many people saw it, but nobody did anything”.
The classical “bystander effect” is perfectly visible in cases like these: with no sense of responsibility towards what they see and the fact that it doesn’t seem to be an emergency, people tend to avoid any kind of uncomfortable situation.
But this can get a bit extreme.
A Swedish organization called STHLM Panda created a social experiment inside of an elevator to show how people react when someone is suffering from violence close to them. Out of 53 people, only one stood up for the victim:
The fact is that bystanders tend not to get involved to avoid becoming a victim themselves. In extreme cases like these, it’s important to get more people involved in order to avoid that. But in the majority of cases, people just take harassment as a normal part of their everyday life.
The ugliness of our society
Just last night, the memorial of 23-year-old Tugce Albayrak, killed by harassers outside of a Mc Donald’s parking lot in a town near Frankfurt, was marked by tributes around the whole country. But Tugce was not a typical victim of harassment: she was a bystander who decided to intervene when she saw two girls being harassed in the bathroom. After the incident, when she was leaving the restaurant, she was hit and was in coma for two weeks before her parents decided to turn off the life support equipment.
In San Francisco, a man was stabbed by a harasser that kept provoking him and his girlfriend into a fight after catcalling her. According to Schwartz, “it turned violent very quickly”.
The brutality of the crimes is just as big as the banality of them. A group of young men decide to attack women, get called on it and violently beat the one who stoop up for the girls. When did it become so normal to take on a violent rage against a person who doesn’t agree with one’s behavior?
Another video, this time from India, shows two girls reacting to harassment inside of a bus while bystanders either did nothing or even laughed at the scene:
The video went viral and the two sisters have been celebrated in the country for their courage. The man who harassed them has been caught by the police.
What can we do?
There are many different ways bystanders can help the ones being attacked without getting hurt themselves. A simple “are you ok?” to the victim can go a long way.
A very helpful collection of tips for bystanders was made by Stop Street Harassment organization. According to the text, “many of the suggestions that do not directly challenge a harasser, such as asking the woman if she wants help or asking the harasser what time it is, are excellent to use when one is not sure if it is harassment that is occurring, if they do not want to dis-empower the woman, or if they fear becoming the target of the harasser’s inappropriate behavior themselves. Something as simple as clearing one’s throat or coughing can help defuse a situation too, particularly if a harasser does not notice other people are around (such as on a dark street).”
In the case things get ugly, make sure you reach for support from others around you and call the police right away.