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Following up on yesterday’s post, one of the biggest challenges to ending sexual harassment is getting bystanders to speak up and intervene. It’s easy enough to think about what we would have done after the fact. When Jaym Gates wrote about the “WFC Creeper” from World Fantasy Con this year, I kept going over various things I could have said and done had I been there.

But it’s different when you’re in the moment. What if I’m misreading the situation? What if saying something only escalates the problem? Nobody else is speaking up, so maybe I’m the only one who’s getting a bad vibe. I’m not a terribly large or physically imposing person … is there really anything I can do?

It can be hard to think when you’re in the moment, which is one of the reasons I want to think and talk about it now. This isn’t an area where I have any formal training or experience, so I picked some brains while putting this list together.

1. Addressing the harasser. Sometimes someone is simply clueless and genuinely doesn’t get that what they’re doing is unwanted and unacceptable. Say you see someone at a signing who squees and sidles into a chair, wrapping him/herself around his/her favorite author. Sometimes all it takes is pulling that person aside and saying, “Look, I know you’re excited, but that’s not cool. It’s creepy.”

2. Is everything okay here? Another fairly straightforward option is to simply check in and ask if everything’s okay. If both parties say yes, then life is good. But if someone is being harassed and says no, or if they simply don’t answer in the affirmative, then you stick around. Now the harasser is outnumbered. Maybe you offer a way out. I’ve used the “Hey, are you ready for the next panel?” bit to help extricate friends from awkward conversations before, and that sort of thing could work here as well. starcat_jewel  and jennygadget suggested questions like “Excuse me, what time is it?” or “Do you happen to know where _____ is?” Both questions insert another person into the conversation in a safe, nonconfrontational way, and asking about directions gives the victim an excuse to say, “Sure, let me show you…”

3. Strength in numbers. If I go up to some guy and tell him to stop grabbing and groping everyone, then it’s a one-on-one situation, and there’s a chance it’s going to escalate. So I grab a few friends first. I suspect most harassers are much less likely to escalate when they’re outnumbered four-to-one.

4. Voice > Muscle. I love working with new students at karate when they ask about stopping bullies or strangers, especially people bigger than they are. I have them play the part of the bad guy and come at me, and right when they’re about to lay hands on me, I drop to the ground with my hands and feet up to protect myself and shout, “NO! STRANGER! BULLY!” On one occasion, the poor kid levitated halfway to the door in fright. Now I’m not saying this is always the best response, but a loud voice attracts attention. If you project from the gut, a firm, “Dude, she said no!” should draw the attention of half the room. At that point, numbers are once again on your side.

5. Report it. I’m struggling with this one. We’re always pressuring victims to report, but that should be their choice, not one I make for them. One option is to talk to the victim and offer to go with them to report it. Another option, if I see something that makes me uncomfortable, is for me to report it to Ops or whoever’s organizing the event. Not to say “Hey, badge number 123 was groping [NAME], and she looked uncomfortable,” but maybe “Badge number 123 is getting sexually aggressive and not respecting people’s boundaries, and it’s making the party/panel/whatever really uncomfortable for me and a lot of other people.” At the very least, that alerts the con staff to the problem, allowing them to take further steps if necessary.

6. Be Aware of Gender Issues. While men sexually harassing women is most common, harassers are not exclusively male, nor are victims exclusively female. Don’t be afraid to speak up just because the gender dynamics don’t match your expectations. Also, men are often more likely to listen to other men, making it that much more important for us to speak up.

7. Ass-kicking. This is the one a lot of people talk about. “We just need to get some big, burly guys to kick his ass!” And the problem may escalate to the point where physical intervention is required. But physical intervention should be a last resort, and it’s much better to let security or the police handle this whenever possible unless you want to risk ending up in a) the hospital or b) jail. See also rachelmanija’s post “Why Didn’t You Kick Him in the Balls?


As I noted, I’m not an expert here. I’d love it if others could share thoughts and suggestions. For those with first-hand experience, what have you seen that worked, and what didn’t?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)
As I think I said elsewhere - continually agitate for protecting people from harassment. make sure that, if you're part of an organization, reports of harassment are dealt with. Make sure that people who dismiss harassment, or argue that policing it is burdensome, crates a paranoid atmosphere, or is somehow shameful get either re-educated, or relegated to positions where they can't influence policy on this.

Far too often, I've seen people complain about harassment, and then get shut down. F/SF needs an active culture of not ignoring this problem, rather than the semi apathetic one I see all too often.
Dec. 6th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
"Why is SFWA worrying about sexual harassment when we should be fighting teh evil pirates???!!!"

Not a direct quote, but a paraphrase of something I've seen more than once in recent weeks. Sigh...
(no subject) - sinboy - Dec. 7th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 6th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC)
We were dealing with a kid on the bus (a sixth grader) who was picking on our son (who's in first grade) for a while. Assigned seating areas on the bus seems to have fixed this, but WTF???

Like any other technique, it's one thing to try. It might not work in all situations or for all people, but it's one I never considered growing up. I thought my job was to be quiet and just take it.

I'm glad you're taking steps to address the problem, and I hope things get better for your son soon!
(no subject) - barbarienne - Dec. 6th, 2011 10:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - serialbabbler - Dec. 6th, 2011 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 6th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
What if saying something only escalates the problem? This is the one I'm always most concerned about. As a strong voiced female, I know I can set off a serial harrasser just by stepping in badly. Phrases like "ball buster" have been used in my presence by the unenlightened ;>.

This is one of those situations where, as you say, male harassers will often listen more to a male voice than a female voice, in terms of direct intervention ("hey dude, what you're doing is NOT cool")

starcat_jewel and jennygadget suggested questions like “Excuse me, what time is it?” or “Do you happen to know where _____ is?” or even "Ready for that next panel?" are a really good way around that issue. We're less likely to escalate with an innocent introduction of a 3rd party - we change the dynamics.

Mind you, if it's an issue like that guy who was harassing 4 women all at once because they were too well behaved to just tell him to fob off will require a different approach - And now that i've finally reached the age where I "look like a mom" I can interfere there by walking in and saying things like, "Oh dear, they really don't fancy you young man. Time to move along and find young ladies more to your taste" waving him along and doing my best impression of Jessica Fletcher. Unlikely to escalate and unexpected enough to work, at least a good chunk of the time.
Dec. 7th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
We are taught to care whether or not someone calls us a "ball buster." That we need to maintain our feminine image.

I don't. I don't care WHAT you call me, because it's not going to be any worse than what I've already been called, and you aren't a multi-starred general (who didn't need to use Language to let me know I'd been an idiot.) The SOBs at conventions aren't in any legitimate authority over me. Granted, at my age and lack of cuteness I don't have much trouble (not none, but not much) but when trouble comes, I do not care WHAT the abuser/harasser thinks of me. Why should I care? The individual is being a creep. If a creep calls me a ball-breaker, a lesbian, a stupid politically-correct POS or any of the other things I've been called...so what? That opinion is irrelevant; the person giving it has already shown him/herself to be socially flawed. If I escalate the problem by telling him (or her) to let someone alone...then it needed escalating and publicizing that he (or she) is a creep is best done with noise.

Some are good at changing the dynamic. Those who aren't (for lack of training or lack of intrinsic talent) can at least be noisy enough to call attention to the problem.
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Dec. 7th, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 6th, 2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
I think I said this before, but the thing that someone said at WFC that was really helpful was, "What the hell was that? Are you okay?" Someone I know slightly had touched me inappropriately in passing and was gone before I could say or do anything unless I wanted to yell after him. Having someone else who has no particular reason to be concerned for my well-being register that something inappropriate had happened and might quite reasonably have disturbed my equilibrium was a godsend.
Dec. 6th, 2011 08:42 pm (UTC)
Given how often we belittle or minimize or silence people who've been sexually harassed, I can see how someone else actually validating that something messed-up just happened could be a very powerful thing.
Dec. 6th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
I think we need to have Jim go to all the major conventions and do major/mandatory panels on sexual harassment and rape (and why it is BAD.) I would prefer him to do it in elementary and Middle schools all across the country, but I realize that may not be feasible. :)
Dec. 7th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
I think that's a lot of responsibility to lay on anyone's shoulders.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 7th, 2011 05:17 pm (UTC)
Sometimes a situation needs escalation if that's the only way to get it out in the open. Granted, this is a Marine speaking (and carefully deleting the appropriate bits of Language.) Fear of escalation has stopped too many mouths too many times in too many situations--not just harassment.
Dec. 6th, 2011 05:02 pm (UTC)
5 and 6 link, for me. In the past I've reported things along the lines of "X person has been a bit problematic. If absolutely necessary I can talk to the people they've been harassing and see if any want to step forward, but since I was there I thought I'd give you the heads up."

I tend to run that interference, or have at least. Generally in the bars I frequented. And it's happened a few more times than I'd like. But the tone and direction I take is that I took offense and I wasn't even the person it was directed at. So far - and I admit this is as a male - I've been listened to and that's been enough.

Of course these are gay bars and most of the places I go develop a fairly strong policy of protecting the patrons. So having that backup of staff knowing to listen out for those kinds of things with a clear plan of what to do? Helps.

But again, I find that if I'm not directly involved but present I report that I was disturbed. Framed that way it's as often as not enough to get things going. If possible I like to drag other people with me when I do it so there's no need to single out a person being harassed. (shrug) No, it doesn't always work but a group of four people saying they object to an individuals treatment of other event participants tends to at least draw attention.
Dec. 6th, 2011 07:41 pm (UTC)
"X person has been a bit problematic. If absolutely necessary I can talk to the people they've been harassing and see if any want to step forward, but since I was there I thought I'd give you the heads up."

That seems like a reasonable and positive way to handle it. You saw it, you took offense by the behavior, and that's what you reported.

Creating an environment where the organizers/powers-that-be are interested in addressing and stopping harassment makes a huge difference, too...
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Dec. 6th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 6th, 2011 06:07 pm (UTC)
Apropos, perhaps, to add to your posts: http://www.blogher.com/i-just-want-go-walk?page=full

And thank you, Jim.
Dec. 6th, 2011 07:50 pm (UTC)
I hadn't seen that article before, thank you. It overlaps well with the Schrodinger's Rapist article, I think.
Dec. 6th, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
Jaym Gates' line here needs to be highlighted, underlined, and drilled into every person's head:

"What about someone who is brand new to SF? How long until a minor is assaulted? How long until this blows up in our faces?"

Do you think that Penn State is now wishing the genie were back in the bottle? Syracuse University?

And those places had this situation blow up in large, well funded, well connected athletic departments at major universities, pretty much in the dead center of sports culture. Look at all the recriminations happening now at those places, which aren't as "fringe" as SFF cons are.

Guess what'll happen if this sort of thing blows up and the big news services (such as Fox News) gets a hold of this? Do you think that it won't be open season on the rest of us? Think again.

It's not a matter of 'if', but 'when'.

Dec. 6th, 2011 07:19 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - mtlawson - Dec. 6th, 2011 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 6th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
I have very successfully used my voice to get out of sketchy situations.

I have twice gotten men who were following me on an otherwise empty street to literally turn and run by simply turning around and shouting, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" (I assume they really were following me on the grounds that if they weren't, they would have responded with something like, "Huh? What?" rather than with instant flight.)

I have also gotten men to stop harassing me in public places by shouting stuff like, "I SAID, I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU!"

I have never had to escalate beyond that. My theory is this:

If you confront and yell when you're alone, you're signaling that you are ready to both keep yelling (potentially alerting bystanders and cops), and to fight. You have turned an easy situation for the potential attacker or harasser into a very difficult one. He will probably decide it's not worth it.

If you confront and yell in a public space, you are forcing the bystanders to become consciously aware of what's going on. If the harasser continues to harass, and you continue to yell, it will become such an uncomfortable situation for the bystanders that some of them will feel obliged to take your side. Now you have allies.

The big hurdle to overcome is embarassment. We are taught not to yell and make a scene in public places, or even in private. But it's a very, very effective tool for exactly those reasons: it shocks, alerts, and creates fear. Harassment thrives in shadows and silence. Drag it out into the light and yell about it, and it will shrivel and die.
Dec. 6th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
I mentioned elsewhere that one of the things I like about my sensei and style of karate is that we practice being loud. It's usually aimed at kids with more of a stranger slant, but it gives them practice at being loud, and (I hope) helps them to start feel a little more comfortable doing so when necessary.

Because you're completely right -- we're taught not to do this, and like anything else, practice can help us to unlearn what we've learned.
Dec. 6th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
I think that first step is key, especially in Fandom situations. There's a lot of people out there (not just guys) who don't know the boundaries, or that there are boundaries. They see pretty girls randomly glomping people (or apparently randomly) and don't see why they can't as well. People who are raised in settings where touching means affection may over play the importance of someone giving them a hug. People who are only used to seeing others in states of undress as a sexual invitation may get confused when confronted by such situations in public.

I'm not excusing the behavior, I'm just saying, sometimes, you just need to point out that it is inappropriate behavior. Some people need it pointed out multiple times. I know when I was learning how to socialize with the opposite sex, it took me FOREVER to understand that just because an approach worked on one person, didn't mean it would be welcome to another. There's a certain type of person, that I see a lot in fannish activities, who have a real hard time seeing outside of themselves. They've 'figured out' how things work, and absolutely refuse to acknowledge anything to the contrary, until enough people confront them with otherwise.

Again, not defending, just... encouraging the action of talking to people first, before escalating.
Dec. 6th, 2011 08:36 pm (UTC)
I'd love to see the first step taken even further, in a way that encourages us to teach kids what is and isn't appropriate behavior long before the kids are ever in those situations. Teaching kids to respect boundaries from very early ages could go a long way torward reducing harassment...
(no subject) - darksunlight - Dec. 6th, 2011 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Dec. 6th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - judifilksign - Dec. 6th, 2011 10:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - darksunlight - Dec. 7th, 2011 06:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janni - Dec. 9th, 2011 05:13 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 6th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC)
I have done #2 and #4, and they work awesomely.

I want to highlight this, from #2: or if they simply don’t answer in the affirmative

Wow, how many times did I see that at parties in college: some young woman who was too startled/scared/drunk to be able to convey that she very much wanted OUT of the conversation she was in. But the deer-in-headlights expression is unmistakeable, and I pried people away on the "Lack of response = does not want to be here" principle.

I learned #4 almost by accident, taking the subway to work every day. The first time it was raw "I am afraid I will get knocked onto the tracks" fear. After that, the magical response of bullies running away (okay, sidling away) was great.

One of the best things about getting older is the ability to know when it does or does not matter what strangers think of you. So what if a bunch of people on the subway think I'm a crazy lady? There are lots of crazy people on the subway! But honestly, I always got some approving nods from the people around me who saw why I was being vocal.

There's no need to be confrontational about it, either. A very loud, clear statement of "GET AWAY FROM ME RIGHT NOW" is unambiguous, but since it doesn't contain a threat, the instant perception is that the other person must be the threat.
Dec. 8th, 2011 05:41 am (UTC)
#5 is awesome. If it's handled that way it puts the problem behavior on the aggressor, not the victim.
Dec. 13th, 2011 12:11 am (UTC)
All that is Very Good Advice and
if you have a regular problem-causer (our local con has had one), it helps to have security, at the start of the convention, politely and privately remind them that security is keeping an eye on them because we don't want any shenanigans again.

We did have to 'fire' a guy because he would not quit bothering women. We have a very short, sweet shitlist, and he is #1 with a bullet.
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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