How To Intervene In A Hate Crime Or Harassment

CTA Trump Tower
Dimitry Anikin / Flickr
CTA Trump Tower
Dimitry Anikin / Flickr

How To Intervene In A Hate Crime Or Harassment

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The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported more than 430 instances of what it calls “hateful intimidation and harassment” since Nov. 9.

They include anti-immigrant, anti-black and anti-LGBT incidents, as well as swastika graffiti and attacks targeting women. The intimidation and harassment has occurred everywhere from public parks to businesses to elementary schools and high schools.

“Right now, I think we’re at a heightened moment,” said Debjani Roy, deputy director of the anti-harassment group Hollaback.

“It is a community’s responsibility to keep people safe. It’s not the responsibility of the person being targeted, it’s not the responsibility of one, sole person to intervene,” Roy said. “It is all of our responsibilities.”

Morning Shift spoke with Roy about what Hollaback calls the four Ds of bystander intervention: direct, distract, delegate and delay.


“Direct” involves direct intervention: approaching the harasser and telling them to stop what they are doing.

Example: You’re walking down the street. You see a woman being harassed by a man, refusing to leave her alone.

“You can actually go up to that person and tell them: ‘Leave her alone. That is disrespectful.’ ” Roy said.

She noted when this tactic is employed, the message short and succinct.

“It’s not physical; it’s verbal. It’s you setting the boundary and speaking up because the target might not feel comfortable doing so,” Roy said.

But direct intervention can be risky, Roy said, and it’s a tactic that should not be used unless you feel comfortable using it.

“You very much have to be aware of who you are,” she said. “There are people who are walking around who have a lot of privilege who might be in a situation where they can intervene more safely.”


The “distract” tactic involves approaching the target instead of the harasser.

“You see it happening, you go up to the person or people being targeted, and you say something,” Roy said. “ ‘Do you have the time?’ ‘I’m a bit lost. Where’s this street?’ ” 

The distraction tactic de-escalates the situation, Roy said, and there are an indefinite number of tacks one could take. 

“You could pretend to be someone’s long lost friend or pretend that you went to camp with them,” she said.

Roy said the topic you bring up should be unrelated to the harassment that is occurring.

“The person who’s being targeted often picks up on it very, very quickly,” Roy said. “They’ll know that when you approach them and ask them some random unrelated question that you are, in fact, intervening and helping the situation.”

She added the harasser is unlikely to engage any further. “It’s very likely that they’ll just move along.”


To “delegate” means to call for help when you do not feel comfortable intervening yourself, Roy said, preferably to an authority figure if available.

“Business managers, teachers, transit employees, even another person on the train or another person around who looks like they know what’s going on and they can intervene more effectively,” Roy said.


“Delay” means checking in with the targeted person after the harasser has moved on. Roy said this tactic should be used in situations when it feels like you can’t do anything else.

“It’s a very simple thing, just by asking ‘Are you okay?” Roy said. “ ‘Can I get you some water? Can I do something to help you? Can I accompany you to your destination?’ ”

If bystanders do or say nothing, Roy said, the targeted individual will be even more traumatized.

“They’re thinking to themselves: ‘Am I imagining this? Why is no one intervening?’ ” she said. “They feel even more helpless.”

Roy said delay is helpful in most harassment situations, but if physical assault is involved then something else needs to happen too, like calling the police.

“Delay is a way of just showing that person that you saw what’s happening,” she said. “You might not have been able to do anything in the moment, but you are taking care of them after the fact.”

How should someone know which tactic to use?

Ultimately, each situation is unique, Roy said, and there is no exact recipe for every event you might encounter.

“In these situations we do have to be aware of who we are, but also in these situations the person who is at most risk is the person who is being targeted,” Roy said. “In many cases, the person who is being targeted just wants someone to do something so that it does not get any worse.”

She recommends assessing the situation to the best of your ability and using your judgment accordingly.

“You have to assess your safety. You have to assess that person’s safety.”

Press the ‘Play’ button above to listen to the entire segment.