“No one else stepped up to the plate. I had to do something.”

ABC News did a very interesting experiment regarding street harassment and bystanders. They had three actors portray construction workers and had them harass an actress portraying a regular woman. Even as the men escalated, most people nearby did nothing. One woman bystander was too hesitant to confront the men, but suggested to the woman targeted to just ignore them and walk away.

But, across the time they were play-acting harassment, there were THREE good male bystanders who stepped up to the plate.

ABC News

Bystander #1 (you can see this exchange in the video clip):

“You don’t treat people that way. It’s wrong,” one man said to the construction workers.

As he stood next to our actress, he offered to apologize on behalf of our construction workers.

“Are you apologizing for men in general?” our actress asked.

“If I have to,” the man said.

Bystander #2:

“You are disrespecting this woman here. If you have a problem with her, you’re going to have a problem with me. Anyone who wants to be tough just stand up,” the man said.

“She’s flirting,” one of our actors said.

“She ain’t flirting,” the man shot back. “She’s over here and you guys are bothering her. Leave.”

When we [ABC] caught up with this man he told us, “I don’t know her. I don’t know them. I was pretty annoyed the way they were treating her. You know, three guys, a female … she’s very distressed. No one else stepped up to the plate. I had to do something.”

Bystander #3:

“Why don’t you get your lunch and take a hike” said one man.

He happened to be a construction manager who told us [ABC] that he sees a lot of what he called “shenanigans.”

“One, two, three of you picking on her?” he asked. “What are you guys doing? What is this?”

He told our construction workers that one day they might have a daughter and asked them if they would want somebody else to treat her the way they were treating our actress.

“I’m sure she has a father that wouldn’t appreciate that,” he said

“I don’t have a daughter and until then I’m going to have some fun,” one of our fake construction worker replied.

We noticed the man standing by the side of our actress, not allowing the construction workers to get any closer.

As the abuse continued from our workers, he decided the best thing to do would be to walk our actress away from the scene. When we caught up with him, he told us, “I saw one guy grabbing for her. If it went any further, I would probably have to lay him out,” he said.

At the end of the article, ABC said, “In the course of the day, many people witnessed our construction workers verbal assault on our actress. But we wondered; what would happen if our construction workers traded in their hardhats and boots for suits and ties? – Find out tonight at 9 p.m. EST”

Go ABC for addressing street harassment! I’m also interested to see what will happen when the harassers are wearing suits and ties since that ALSO happens despite the stereotype that it’s only construction workers or “blue collar” workers.

I know it can be challenging to be a bystander and the three men who “stepped up to the plate” are a great example for all of us. Here’s more info on being a good bystander as well as suggestions for what you can say or do if you’re the one being harassed.

[Update 1/15: You can watch the full episode online]


6 Responses to “No one else stepped up to the plate. I had to do something.”

  1. Golden Silence says:

    They did something similar with an annoying guy at a bar who wouldn’t leave the woman alone. In the first half she was quieter and dressed conservatively and in the second half of the segment they had her change her clothes to something more revealing and she acted more outspoken. People helped her out in both scenarios.

  2. Jen says:

    Great story – it’s cheered me up at the end of the week! Look forward to seeing what happens in the second experiment – I really hope they get the same reactions…

  3. Erik K. says:

    This video segment is a great example for studying visual and verbal communication a/k/a body language and assertiveness.

    Effective acting is effective communication, therefore it doesn’t matter that the actors are “role playing”.

    Notice in the beginning of the scene the woman has her arms crossed and assumes the standard “not interested in talking to you pose”.

    In this case, despite her body language and asking the men to “stop”, the men continue to harass her. The men are “baiting her”. Her next step is to initiate an assertive confrontation to stop the harassment. In order to do so, she must close the distance to the men by approaching them.

    This emotional and physical switch to close direct communication is difficult for most people to accomplish. It signifies the end of the more passive “don’t bother me” stage and the beginning of the full on “confrontation” stage.

    In order for her to make a strong point, it is necessary for her move forward. She does so, keeping a strong assertive voice, but NOT using an angry tone.

    What she does next is an perfect example of “physical assertiveness”. The main harasser now moves closer to her. She immediately puts her hand up to create a physical “fence” and takes a single strong step backward while maintaining her fence. She simultaneously, says in a loud and strong voice “Don’t even get close to me!”

    She now set a very firm verbal boundary. She has made it clear that she feels threatened, yet she exhibits power and control. (I think this is about as good as it gets when it comes to demonstrating these concepts)

    The man now realizes that he has pushed her to far. His response is to immediately put his hands up in the
    classic “Hey it’s ok, I am not going to hurt you posture” and to step back.

    The harasser has now acknowledged the woman’s boundary setting, backed down, and lost control of the situation. The situation has climaxed. All that is needed is for the woman to make a firm exit.

    In the event that the man did not immediately back down and in fact moved forward. His actions should be seen as immediately threatening. In such a case, the woman would be justified in an escalated physical response. The harasser could also be potentially held accountable for criminal assault.

    Now, look closely at the 2nd scenario with the male bystander. He is calmly assertive but assumes a non-threatening posture. In order for the bystander man to de-escalate the situation it is wise to not directly confront the harassing men. To do so, would be a physical challenge which could easily escalate into violence. It is dangerous for one man to confront three men. Therefore, he keeps the confrontation on a calm verbal level and focuses more on the woman than the harassing men.

    A great example of how to step up and help out without needing to resort to threats of violence.

  4. alan says:

    Pretty inspiring for us typical non-targets! Hope I can do the same when in a similar situation

  5. Nice! I reallt like it.
    I really love that kind of experiments.

  6. b says:

    I’ve totally done this. Granted, I’m a woman, so my tactics are different, but I’ve definitely gotten the guy to leave so no one was forced to “just ignore it.” I suppose it’s good karma, because I’ve had women get my back in public before too. This is awesome. I’m so glad they showed men how this can play out if they’ll just get involved in calling out harassing behavior.

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