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Intervening Against Harassment

(12 Posts)
MephistophelesApprentice Thu 11-Dec-14 13:14:27

I have two questions, and would very grateful for some opinions from feminists.

Recently, on my commute home, I spotted two male students from my former school (roughly 13-14) harassing a girl from another school (I'd guess 12-13). They were following her home loudly making sexual remarks and trying to get her to engage in a conversation (and give them cigarettes). The girl was responding negatively, but not with a great deal of apparent anger or fear. Nevertheless I was concerned and decided to intervene.

I approached, spoke directly to the girl, apologising for interrupting (I didn't want to impose if I had misread the situation - ASD, so I have to be careful) and asked if she required any assistance. She mentioned that the two guys had just started following her, she didn't know them - again, with confidence and not panicking, but still evidently not comfortable with their presence. I looked at the two boys, memorised their faces and casually mentioned that I used to go their school and still probably knew quite a few teachers. They quieted and backed off (after asking me for cigarettes).

At this point I wasn't sure how to proceed, so I said 'sorry about that' to the girl, then continued home. She walked beside me for a while, chatting quietly (my dad used to teach at her school years ago, and it turned out she DID have cigarettes but had no intention of sharing them) then said bye and turned down her own road. I watched to see if the boys followed, which they didn't. I then went home.

Sorry for all the detail, but it's kind of essential to the questions.

This is the first time I've intervened in this sort of situation, which I was safe to do because for once I had a physical advantage over the harassers if it had come to physical violence. This is also the only reason why there was any success, although the fact that I knew the school the boys attended probably helped.

*My first question is*: Did I do the right thing? I don't think the girl was in genuine danger and she was already handling the situation with confidence and aplomb. In some ways I reacted because I found the boys behaviour personally offensive and it has worried me that I might have let my own boorishness override her desire to handle things herself. If anyone can suggest a way I might have handled things better, or been less of an overbearing 'white knight' I'd very much appreciate your views.

*My second question is*: On another night after this event I saw two girls being followed and harassed by three other girls. The insults and taunts were very sexist and sexual, but in some ways less aggressive and direct - stage whispers, shouted questions and then giggling over the answers. This also made me uncomfortable, but I did not intervene. I felt a lot more confident addressing the young men, as in male-to-male conversations of this type I can draw on direct physical authority to establish situational control should reason fail. For many reasons this would not be appropriate with girls of the same age. Now I'm wondering if I should have intervened, and if so, how?

Thanks for reading.

cailindana Thu 11-Dec-14 13:57:16

Yes, you were right to intervene. Well done. Clearly the girl appreciated your help and you made her day a bit easier. That is always a good thing in my book.
If ever if there is a situation where you don't feel safe to intervene, where the aggressors are bigger or seem violent, then call the police, immediately. Stay in the vicinity as a witness but don't approach unless absolutely necessary.

As for the situation with the girls, if you didn't feel right to intervene then it was absolutely your prerogative not to. But, I wouldn't say that there is any particular reason that you shouldn't intervene in that situation as long as you feel safe to do so. Again in a similar situation, if you are at all unsure, call the police.

MephistophelesApprentice Thu 11-Dec-14 16:27:33

Thank you for your response. It is my firm belief that a woman (of any age) has the right to set her own boundaries with regards to acceptable behaviour towards her, and I was concerned I might have been imposing my own values. I'm glad that someone else agrees with my interpretation of the situation.

It was that same concern that meant I felt less ready to interfere with the latter situation. As a man, I believe I have a duty to model (and where necessary forcefully suggest) appropriate behaviours for the benefit of younger men. I don't feel I have the same with young women - I'd like to live in a world where older people were role models for young people regardless of gender, but there are still a few obstacles to that simplicity.

As to contacting the police, well, sadly another idea for an ideal world, I believe. I've had a few friends narrowly escape being charged for wasting police time after similar incidents. I don't have much faith in the police taking non-adult harassment seriously.

Thanks again for your insight and suggestions.

cailindana Thu 11-Dec-14 16:32:47

I should add that given that you're a man you have to be aware that women may view you as a threat and respond negatively to your intervention. As long as you back off when asked to and don't insist on helping where it's not wanted, it's all good.

ApocalypseThen Thu 11-Dec-14 22:27:44

You were completely right to intervene, and well done for doing it. You definitely made that girl's experience much, much better than it could have been. It takes courage to do what you did. You should accept all the pats on the back coming to you.

BuffyWithChristmasEarings Thu 11-Dec-14 23:18:46

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

messyisthenewtidy Fri 12-Dec-14 07:18:30

Definitely a nice thing to do. You also conveyed the message to the girl that the harassing behaviour was unacceptable and one that she shouldn't have to put up with. This means a lot because as girls we are often taught to excuse and minimize such behaviour even though it bothers us.

I expect she'll remember it for a long time. I would have done.

Zazzles007 Fri 12-Dec-14 08:19:07

Yes, yes and a resounding YES! You absolutely and positively did the right thing. No female, woman or girl should have to put up with sexual harassment. And neither should a man, for those who are going to query what I've written hmm. However in this instance, this young lady has the absolute right to travel home without being sexually harassed by boys or men that she knows/does not know. To be free from harassment (of any sort) is a basic human right, and should be considered as such.

yussetec Sun 21-Dec-14 15:36:15

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

yussetec Sun 21-Dec-14 15:37:16

"This is the first time I've intervened in this sort of situation, which I was safe to do because for once I had a physical advantage over the harassers if it had come to physical violence."

Please don't tell me you (a grown man) were considering using violence against 2 school boys?

BlameItOnTheBogey Sun 21-Dec-14 23:23:22

No Yussetec, that is not what the OP was considering.

At the risk of having to spell things out, his point - I think - was that had the boys reacted to him intervening in an aggressive manner (not unknown), he would have been able to defend himself and was not therefore putting himself at risk.

Odd that you can't see that. confused

OmnipotentQueenOfTheUniverse Mon 22-Dec-14 20:28:29

lol @ yussetec. seriously?

OP I would echo what others have said including Cailin's comment about not being put out / surprised if you are seen as a threat yourself.

Many women and girls have had experiences where a male "rescuer" expected something in return, and ended up proving as annoying / bad as the original problem!

I do think that women should be encouraged to intervene or at least spot this stuff and provide moral support. I have just walked near to girls who were looking nervous with blokes following them with a little smile to let them know they're not on their own, that sort of thing is best left for female/female for aforesaid reason though a bloke doing that would look creepy as fuck! There is a very different dynamic I think with men v women intervening around how capable a woman intervening will be if it gets aggressive / violent and also the whole shared experience stuff that women and girls have with this stuff. So they tend to do it in different ways which is good.

FWIW I think you did a nice thing smile

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