Campaigns against sexual harrasment in the streets, are increasingly aimed at bystanders.
Trying to empower the woman puts responsibility where it -as a matter of principle- does not belong.
Also, no victim of sexual harrasment expects how much she (or he) will freeze up. Every one of us thinks, from the comfort of our chairs, that WE will be assertive. WE would be sassy, WE would defend ourselves. Men think they would defend themselves of their friends bravely. Because we like to think of ourselves as strong and safe. So there must be something wrong with the victims who just froze up. They are not so strong and assertive as we are, therefore we are safe. It is a pleasant thought, no?
Only recently neurological research has become public knowledge. We now know how, in perceived danger, within seconds humans shift to another neurological mode. We flee ( but in the street, we cannot) so we mainly freeze-and-walk-on. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sexual-assault-may-trigger-involuntary-paralysis/?fbclid=IwAR3TDR_C4Ck_Bszap0v7wANrLI2ruAcexX8PNGtyESgnd4FDwg9trD-eg2s
En remember, that happens when danger is perceived. Even a mild form of agression, even a suspected or imagined form of agression triggers this response. When she’s safe again, a woman will be annoyed with herself and wonder why she didn’t speak up. Well, neurologists told us why.
It’s true what Lady Gaga sang. "“Till it happens to you, you don’t know, how it feels”.
So arm chair comments about how women should defend themselves, are mostly for the benefit of the one in the armchair.
So then what can we do?
Years of research in the USA says: involve bystanders. Bystanders see the harrasment, they don’t like it, they get upset, but they don’t know how to label what happens, they don’t know what to do, or don’t feel safe to act. So they do nothing and feel bad about doing nothing and they start rationalizing that they did nothing. Change that. Give bystanders a framework to look at what happens, give them tools to intervene in a safe and productive way. Make that the core of your education programs.
This approach has been hugely succesfull in anti-bullying programs, and can be copied into street harrasment campaigns. https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/10/education-not-punishment-say-anti-harassment-activsts/543327/?fbclid=IwAR2xe7-cqrHkllLQH3qIyHyiJ2ShestdgZ2LySWF6wmbYrtQITCZsMqNBIs
…the Executive Director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces …compares the proposal’s approach to that of anti-bullying campaigns. “Bystander intervention works really well because it makes people more likely to intervene and de-escalate a situation,” she says, “but also makes them more likely to empathize and intervene.” “It’s more effective to talk to men as potential heroes than it is to talk to them as potential aggressors,” says Raven. “We don’t want to shame people about the [way] they’ve been socialized to behave.” … Debjani Roy, the Deputy Director of Hollaback!, an organization that aims to end harassment …reiterates that advertising campaigns around a city, particularly in public transit, are key. She also advocates for bystander training in schools. “We know it’s happening young,” Roy says, “I know from my own experience that this is where the behavior starts. It’s learned behavior and peer pressure: proving masculinity.” Though she is against laws that promote criminalization, Roy still believes that through campaigns and advocacy programs there is work legislators can do to make their cities safer for everyone.
Such an approach aimed at bystanders has also been the core of the anti racism campaign from the fifties, Frown Power. https://qz.com/work/1134672/civil-rights-activist-stetson-kennedys-frown-power-could-help-fight-sexual-harassment-today/?fbclid=IwAR2JLyw930ZNO0zVVjpJ1siwwi-nInC2HDo3G0GVEsqA2-FeZ6e7N5ntrrM
PSA campaigns in New York City transport also tried this, when they said in their ads about harrasment in public transit: “Speak up”. If they had only offered a script, of what to say when you spoke up. Because what do you say when you try to speak up? Maybe you misjudge the situation and get a sneer to stay out of it. Maybe the agression turns on you. It’s not easy to "speak up"when you don’t have a safe and socially lucrative script.
Enter modern technology.
Only since 2017 everyone has a cellphone ready in their hands at all time. A cellphone equiped with a camera, a camera that can film unobtrusively.
Suppose a New York City safety ad would not say anymore: “speak up” but would say: “film it and offer your film to the victim?”
For a victim, such a filmclip would provide evidence and would allow the police to track the harasser. She could upload it to some website so see if this guy harrassed others in that spot. She could just share it on the internet so the shame is no longer on her, but on HIM. She would weaponize her embarrasment so it becomes the embarrasment of her harraser.
He said-she said would no longer apply. The perp is on camera.
It would be a huge deterrent to harassers. It would empower bystanders and potential victims.
But there are many pittfalls. The campaign would have to bring across the subtle message that it is not okay to film anyone without their consent, but that it is okay to film if someone gets harrassed, as long as you offer the material to the victim afterwards. And the victim should then be given a script to accept such an offer graciously, when she is more likely to snap at someone and unload on him the agression she could not unload on her attacker.
Or the campaign could ask victims to speak up and say: “can anyone film this creep for me, please?”.
What do you think? Could this work?