Online workshop with Fairspace: Becoming an Active Bystander of Street Harassment

On the 12th of November we teamed up with Fairspace again to organise a workshop on becoming an active bystander of street harassment. This time, because of the covid measures, they gave their workshop online. Fairspace NL is part of an international network of grassroots organisations who share the same vision: working to build safe and inclusive spaces for all.

During the workshop, Simone and Martina from Fairspace first gave us a short introduction about street harassment and the importance of bystander intervention. Street harassment can occur anywhere in public space, and in varying degrees. How we experience it is deeply personal for everyone and depends amongst others on our position in society. It is really important that bystanders of street harassment intervene, since it is very common that the victim of harassment freezes in that particular moment. Additionally, it can also be very helpful for the victim if a bystander reassures them that what just happened is indeed not okay.

To become aware of the different power dynamics and situations in which street harassment can occur, we checked our privileges during an online privilege walk. We used a website where all participants could ‘grab’ a digital post-it and with each question could decide to either move their post-it up on the screen or to not move it at all. The people who stayed in their place the most, were the most privileged: meaning, they were the least affected by street harassment, because of for example their gender, race or religious belief. The questions that were asked during the privilege walk showed us that street harassment can occur in many different situations and at its core it can be sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist and anti-religious.

After the privilege walk, Fairspace walked us through the four different ways in which bystanders of street harassment can intervene, also known as the Four D’s:

  • Delay: This intervention is a rather safe and easy option that takes place after the incident and it focuses on checking in on and/or caring for the victim. For example, go up to the victim and ask if they are okay and if you can help them in anyway.

  • Distract: This is an intervention that takes place during the incident and its goal is to cause distraction and to deescalate the situation. You can do this by for example walking up to the victim and asking them a random question - like “do you know what time it is?” - or you can act like you know the victim and start a conversation with them. This will take the attention off of the harasser and can be comforting for the victim. It is important to note here that the question or conversation has to be about a random topic and the harasser needs to be ignored. If you talk to the victim about what is a happening at that moment and the harasser can overhear the conversation, this might lead to an escalation of the situation and you may not be safe. If you do feel safe, you may consider the next approach.

  • Direct: Confront the harasser directly during the incident. Clearly state, for example: “This is not funny”/”This is not okay”/”Stop doing (or saying) that”. Make clear that this behaviour is not tolerated and that it is not normal and express support for the victim. Very important to note that this method should only be used in situations where you feel safe enough; the harasser could become aggressive towards the person directly intervening.

  • Delegate: Ask for help from a third party, for example call the police or find someone in charge or even ask other bystanders. Also here, make sure that you do not escalate the situation: realise that the police is biased and that sometimes the situation can become more dangerous for the victim if the police gets involved.

It is important to remember that bystander intervention can vary from day to day. On some days, you may feel stronger and are ready to direct the harasser, while on other days you might want to take a different approach. In any case, do whatever feels right for you in that moment and always think about your own safety as well!

All in all, it was an informative and inspiring evening where participants shared their personal experiences, and we were able to learn about and practice the Four D’s on a few case studies. After the event we felt empowered to reclaim public space and to be active bystanders when confronted with street harassment.

We would like to thank all participants for being there and actively participating and of course a big thank you to Simone and Martina from Fairspace who gave the workshop and shared their knowledge with us!

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