The second [striking thing in a discussion on BBC London] was the suggestion (which I recall Simister saying the police had given to her after her assault) that women should “just ignore it”, which prompted me to write an email to the show (which Feltz read out), because the police have said the same thing to people suffering from the anti-social behaviour of local yobs and to people with disabilities who are being harassed by yobs or haters. It’s a fallacy particularly beloved of teachers as well, who will say the same to a child who complains of being teased in the playground (even if the “teasing” is not just verbal or if it is stopping them going about their business): “ignore it and it will go away”. The problem is that it just is not true: if you ignore a harasser who is trying to get a reaction, they will escalate their behaviour to physical intrusions and assaults, as has been noted to happen in the playground and the classroom and in cases of sexual harassment, until they get what they want. The only way of dealing with them is for them to be fought off, or for someone in authority to come between the persecutor and the victim.
It’s one of those platitudes like “the best antidote to bad ideas is better ideas.” That sounds good, but it’s not always true, and it’s obviously not always true. If that were true, bad ideas would never prevail, because better ideas would just always automatically trump them. Life isn’t like that. Same with the dreamily mistaken idea that if you ignore something nasty, it will [invariably] go away. Try that on a predator, for example.
The “ignore it and it goes away” myth is an example of the “just world” fallacy, in which people defend their belief in a “just world” by pretending that someone who is continually suffering must deserve it somehow. It also enables people to get out of taking responsibility for wrong they see happening. In this case, there is an “obvious answer” to the problem which the victim can easily make work for him- or herself by just ignoring the harassment for long enough, or to put it another way, just putting up with it. It gives the teacher or police officer an easy way of responding to a situation rather than tackle the difficult job of making the harassment stop, as is their duty, and blame the victim (and brand them a nuisance) if the behaviour continues.
The “just world” fallacy – I hadn’t heard that before, and it’s spot-on.
Of course, the response may be appropriate when the complaint is just about a little bit of teasing, but there is a line between that and persistent harassment or physical assault of any kind…
Precisely. A little bit of teasing is not persistent harassment. Persistent harassment is not a little bit of teasing. It’s good to get these things clear.