Political Issues

Bystander Intervention Training Teaches You What To Do If You Witness an Attack

Kara Jillian Brown

Photo: Getty Images / d3sign
On Monday, in broad daylight near New York City’s Times Square, a man brutally attached a 65-year-old Filipino woman as she walked to church. Brandon Elliot, who has since been arrested, shoved the woman to the ground and repeatedly kicked her in the head as bystanders did nothing to intervene.

The incident took place in front of a luxury apartment building, and video footage shows three men in the lobby, two staff and one delivery person, who watched as the attack unfolded. As the woman began to get up, one worker closed the door to the building.

Outrage at the apparent inaction of the bystanders has turned attention to The 5Ds of Bystander Intervention developed by Hollaback!, an organization working to “end harassment in all its forms by transforming the culture that perpetuates hate and harassment.” Hollaback! also hosts free bystander intervention training meant to teach people what to do if they witness someone being harassed and/or attacked.

The 5 Ds of Bystander Intervention

1. Distract

You can subtly intervene by distracting. “The idea is to ignore the harasser and engage directly with the person who is being targeted,” explains Hollaback! “Don’t talk about or refer to the harassment. Instead, talk about something completely unrelated.” Recommendations include asking for directions or the time, or pretending to know the person being harassed. “Of course, read the situation and choose your distract method accordingly. The person who is being targeted will likely catch on, and hopefully, your act or statement will de-escalate the situation.”

2. Delegate

During this step, you ask others for help. If you’re on a bus, maybe you ask the driver to step in. If you’re outside, you can ask the front desk staff at a nearby building. You can also work with other bystanders. Before contacting 911, Hollaback! says to check in with the person being targeted to make sure they want law enforcement involved. “Some people may not be comfortable or safe with the intervention of law enforcement,” says Hollaback! “[T]here are many communities, such as undocumented individuals, who may feel less safe in the hands of police. In certain situations, you may not be able to get to the person in which case, depending on the situation, you will need to use your best judgment.”

3. Document

Footage of George Floyd’s killing captured by 18-year-old Darnella Frazier is a key piece of evidence in the Derick Chauvin trial which began this week. If someone else is already using the other Ds to help the person being harassed and it is safe for you to record, Hollaback! says you can start recording.

“Always ask the person who was harassed what they want to do with the recording. Never post it online or use it without their permission,” says Hollaback! “Using an image or footage of a person being victimized without that person’s consent can make the person feel even more powerless. If the documentation goes viral, it can lead to further victimization and a level of visibility that the person may not want. Also, posting footage without a victim’s consent makes their experience public—something that can lead to a whole host of legal issues, especially if the act of harassment or violence was in some way criminal. They may be forced to engage with the legal system in a way that they are not comfortable with.”

4. Delay

“Even if you can’t act in the moment, you can make a difference for the person who has been harassed by checking in on them after the fact,” says Hollaback! During delay, you can ask the person who has been harassed if they’re okay, if they’d like you to sit with them, and what you can do to help. Additionally, if you took a video, you can ask them what they’d like you to do with it.

5. Direct

You may choose to directly engage and speak up. “This tactic can be risky: the harasser may redirect their abuse towards you and may escalate the situation,” says Hollaback! “Before you decide to respond directly, assess the situation: Are you physically safe? Is the person being harassed physically safe? Does it seem unlikely that the situation will escalate? Can you tell if the person being harassed wants someone to speak up? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you might choose a direct response.”

If you do want to speak up directly to the harasser, Hollaback! recommends saying things like “that’s not okay,” “leave them alone,” or “that’s racist.” “The most important thing here is to keep it short and succinct,” says Hollaback! “Try not [to] engage in dialogue, debate, or an argument, since this is how situations can escalate.”

Bystander Intervention Training

To gain a more in-depth understanding of the five Ds of bystander intervention, you can attend a one-hour training led by Hollaback! The workshops are free, but you may consider donating to Hollaback! and its partner Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AACJ) to help both organizations continue their efforts.

“We’ll start by talking about the types of disrespect that Asian and Asian American folks are facing right now—from microaggressions to violence—using a tool we call the ‘spectrum of disrespect.’ You’ll learn what to look for and the positive impact that bystander intervention has on individuals and communities,” explains Hollaback! “We’ll talk through five strategies for intervention: distract, delegate, document, delay, and direct; and how to prioritize your own safety while intervening. We’ll have time at the end for practice, and you’ll leave feeling more confident intervening the next time you see Anti-Asian/American harassment online or in person.”

Sign up for bystander intervention training below and check out Hollaback! for future workshops and events:

  • Tuesday, April 13: 7 p.m. EDT/ 6 p.m. CDT/ 5 p.m. MDT/ 4 p.m. PDT/ 2 p.m. HST.
     Register Here.
  • Monday, April 19th 2021: 4 p.m. EDT/ 3 p.m. CDT/ 2 p.m. MDT/ 1 p.m. PDT/ 11 a.m HST.
    Register Here.
  • Monday, May 3rd 2021: 1 p.m. EDT/ 12 p.m. CDT/ 11 a.m. MDT/ 10 a.m. PDT/ 8 a.m HST.
    Register Here
  • Friday, May 14th 2021: 12 p.m. EDT/ 11 a.m. CDT/ 10 a.m. MDT/ 9 a.m. PDT/ 7 a.m. HST.
    Register Here
  • Thursday, May 20th 2021: 5 p.m. EDT/ 4 p.m. CDT/ 3 p.m. MDT/ 2 p.m. PDT/ 12 p.m. HST.
    Register Here
  • Friday, May 24th 2021: 4 p.m. EDT/ 3 p.m. CDT/ 2 p.m. MDT/ 1 p.m. PDT/ 11 a.m. HST.
    Register Here

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