The Importance of Intervention.

Nizam (Facebook).

Nizam (Facebook).

Fariha Nizam, a 19-year-old college student from Bellerose, Queens, was taking the Q43 bus en route to her Manhattan internship on Thursday morning when she says a white, middle-aged couple approached her, yelling that she must take off her hijab.

“The woman was doing most of the talking and she was basically telling me that I wasn’t allowed to wear it,” Nizam told us on Friday, three days after Donald Trump, a candidate who has stoked Islamophobia and called for a ban on Muslims, was elected President. “She was telling me to take that disgusting piece of cloth off of my head, telling me it’s not allowed anymore.”


But Debjani Roy, deputy director at the anti-harassment nonprofit Hollaback!, said Friday that many women don’t feel comfortable contacting the police. Taking this into account, she said, there’s plenty that New Yorkers can do if they witness a hate incident unfolding. “What we have always pushed for as an organization, and is more important now than ever, is bystander intervention,” she said. “We have a role to play as community members to support and help provide some sense of safety for people who are directly targeted.”

Hollaback! has developed what they refer to has the “Four D’s Of Bystander Intervention”: directly intervene, distract, delegate, and delay.

If stepping between victim and harasser “isn’t the safest thing to do,” Roy said, distraction is a good alternative. “That could be pretending you are lost and asking for directions, or sitting next to the person and pretending you know them,” she said. “Then the person who is doing the harassing is disrupted.” Delegating might involve getting up and speaking to the bus driver. The fourth response, “delay,” might involve stepping up to the victim and talking to him or her after the incident.

In Nizam’s case, she said, fellow bus riders could have done more. “As much as I appreciate that people were asking [the couple] to stop, I wish there was more of an active effort. There wasn’t someone literally getting between me and this woman,” she said. “I didn’t see anyone telling the bus driver he needed to stop, or calling the police.”

With open bigotry and racism now presidentially approved, intervention is more important than ever, on all fronts. If you aren’t aware of the Bystander Effect, now is a good time to learn. We all need to gather our courage, and work together to get a very firm message across to all the bigots: this will not be tolerated. There’s good information and advice: Hollaback!, Guide for Bystanders, and The Gothamist. These techniques are applicable no matter where in the world you are. It is time for us all to stand up, and stand against those who are intent on harm.

(Gretchen Robinette / Gothamist).

(Gretchen Robinette / Gothamist).


  1. quotetheunquote says

    Thank you for bringing this issue to the fore, and for providing the links.

    My instinctive reaction in a case like this would be, I suspect, more confrontational (“And exactly how is this woman’s clothing any of your fucking business?”) , but I suspect these suggestions are much wiser…

    I want to say a lot more about this, but I think it best to give the capsule version: “bullies suck, and are not to be tolerated.”

  2. says

    Welcome. :D

    My impulse would be to get in a bully’s face, but it’s not good strategy. It’s best to walk straight up, turn your back on them, focus on the victim, while ignoring the bully. If there are other people around, the can provide the outer layers of insulation, including calling for back up, if needed.

    One major problem we’re facing is that many of these Trumpoids are itching to engage in violence. We need to avoid that, at all costs, so playing into their fantasies isn’t a good thing.

    One other thing that is helpful, is to imagine scenarios in your head, and think of things you would say and do, it’s a good way to be prepared, and not paralyzed by shock when something does happen.

  3. says

    Yes, please everybody get informed NOW and think about it NOW. In that situation you will probably too stressed out to think of something.
    Centre your intervention on the victim. You may want to be confrontational, but they may only want to get away safely and that’s not your call to make.
    Also, remember your own oxygen mask. Get help yourself so you’re not getting your teeth kicked in 5 minutes later

  4. dakotagreasemonkey says

    I read every link on bystander intervention you’ve posted. Now my radar is up, and active. If I encounter it, I’ll intervene, no questions asked, no quarter given to the aggressors. Victim to safe haven, or departure, whatever they wish.
    I know now that I’ll most probably have to do this, many times.
    I’ve intervened several time in my life already, race, feminism, LGBTQ, age, disabilities, species. Way before I knew about bystander intervention, I just knew it was right to protect life.
    Now I know the signs of probably NO intervention, I will be the one to intervene, when I see it, hear it, feel it.

  5. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Bookmarked for later. I’m familiar with some of these techniques (I used to teach them as a tae-kwan-do instructor), but it looks like they’ve been updated a bit. Thanks for the links.

    I have no problem getting in someone’s face, but it’s never the first means of action. De-escalation first, give them a chance to walk away.

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