In a few months, my sister is going to start her first year of college. Since her acceptance, she and a few friends joined a chat group for newly accepted students to meet other incoming students. A group of guys (who were either older than they said or hadn’t even been accepted to the school) harassed a girl by repeatedly asking for her number even though she told them to get away from her. She then told them to not talk to her or her son ever again (which is a reference to a meme), and one guy responded with “I didn’t know this school accepted whores”. The original guy responded that he was “just trying to be nice, BUT whatever”.

My sister called them out, and after they were bored of harassing the first girl, they started messaging her privately. One even said that the other two guys who were also harassing people were annoying and that he wanted to know if she wanted to chat privately without the other guys around.

After processing the entire situation, I felt the helplessness my parents felt when my sister and I were growing up. My dad once told me that when we felt pain, he did too. When I burned myself because my curiosity got the best of me despite my dad’s endless warnings, the most he could do was put aloe vera on my hands to relieve the burn. When we skinned our knees running, the most they could do was clean our bloody legs and bandage them. When our ankles were swollen from taekwondo practice, they put ointment on them. When we had surgery, my mom prayed every day for a speedy recovery. We want to protect and care for the ones we love, and feel powerless when we aren’t able to be there to help.

This was the first time my sister had experienced something like this, and I feel helpless as she is about to become immersed in an environment where attitudes and behaviors like this are extremely prevalent. Her story reminded me of Halsey’s speech at the New York City women’s march:

It’s 2018 and I’ve realized nobody is safe long as she is alive

And every friend that I know has a story like mine
And the world tells me we should take it as a compliment

At chapter that week, we discussed assault and being active vs. passive bystanders. We’re often taught to be wary of strangers, but many times assault involves someone we know. We’re confused as what happens, whether it counts as assault because it was nothing like we were told to look out for. We often think that we’re alone, but in these discussions, we find that these stories aren’t unique. Discussions like this are crucial in order to make college campuses, and the world, a safer place for everyone. They bring awareness and provide support, which is the first step in bringing about change.

Many people witness situations they feel is wrong but don’t intervene because they might feel as though someone else will take action, they are not powerful enough to make a difference, or they themselves may be hurt in process. I have witnessed situations I knew needed intervening, but froze because I had no idea how to help, so I included information on how to deescalate situations because this is something everyone should be knowledgeable about.

Steps to bystander action from MIT’s Active Bystanders page:

  1. Notice an occurrence out of the ordinary.
  2. Decide “in your gut” that something is amiss or unacceptable.
  3. Ask yourself, “Could I play a role here?”
    • If no one intervenes, what will likely happen?
    • Is someone else better placed to respond?
    • What would be my purpose in responding?
  4. Assess your options for giving help
  5. Determine the potential risks of taking action.
    • Are there risks to myself?
    • Are there risks to others?
    • Is there a low-risk option?
    • How could I reduce risks?
    • Is there more information I can get to better assess the situation?
  6. Decide whether to act, at the time or later.

Strategies in the Moment: 

  • Direct:
    – Point to the “elephant in the room”
    – Call for help
    – Ex. Call police, RA, or someone in charge
    – Use body language to show disapproval
    – Encourage dialogue
    – Ex. Suggest they sit down and respectfully talk things through.
  • Distract:
    – Interrupt the behavior/distract
    – Ex. A couple is arguing and you come up and mention how there’s a social event coming up and ask if they’re going.
    – Ex. A couple is arguing and you walk by and comment on how you love the woman’s skirt/dress/shirt etc.
  • Delegate the task to someone else if you’re not comfortable with intervening

Strategies for Later: 

  • Privately support an upset person
  • Talk privately with the inappropriate actor
  • Report the incident, with or without names

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night to a text from a friend about a potential sex trafficking scam happening at other college campuses that may have come to mine. Strangers have been coming up to girls who appear to be alone and asking if they would like to take a survey, talk about god the mother, or read the mother bible. While people may have gone missing from campuses where these people are approaching girls, there is no confirmation that the two are linked.

Earlier that night, I walked home alone from the library because I didn’t want to bother my friends, but it was also because I forgot for one sweet moment, how dangerous it is to be a woman. But her text made me remember the fear when you’re alone and a stranger approaches you. The fear that increases exponentially when the sun starts to set. I sent a message in our sorority Groupme, but was unable to sleep because the thought of this happening to any of my friends terrified me. The thought of this happening to my sister who is about to start college terrified me. The thought of this happening to anyone terrified me. Until everyone can roam free of fear no matter the time of day, until everyone can dress as they please without negative repercussions, until people understand that “I’m just trying to be nice” is not a valid argument to justify inappropriate behavior, we are not where we should be.

But we are not free until all of us are free
So love your neighbor, please treat her kindly
Ask her story and then shut up and listen
Black, Asian, poor, wealthy, trans, cis, Muslim, Christian
Listen, listen and then yell at the top of your lungs
Be a voice for all those who have prisoner tongues
For the people who had to grow up way too young
There is work to be done
There are songs to be sung
Lord knows there’s a war to be won

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