Yesterday, I got on a train to head home and walked into the middle of a brewing altercation between two men. I’m sure you’ve seen harassment like this before, right? An aggressive, angry person picks a target and a fight. Watching the situation unfold, most of us feel scared – and don’t know what to do to intervene or speak up.

When I speak up about harassment, it always seems to happen on the Orange Line.

You can probably guess what happened next. Yup, I intervened. I struck up a conversation with the person being targeted, and engaged several other women around me as well. Together, we let him know we saw what happened and didn’t think it was okay. And we offered to walk him off the train, away from the aggressor.

Other than the four of us, there were probably about two dozen people on the train who witnessed what happened and stayed completely silent.

Honestly, I don’t blame them. The threat of physical violence is all too real, and scary to people of all genders, men included. I was terrified the whole time. There’s no way to know whether an aggressor has a weapon or an intention to hurt as many people as they can. But I also knew that the bystanders are the ones with the power, especially when we band together. And I’d had a chance to practice the simple conversation skills, so I was prepared to use them, even in a stressful and scary situation.

We can be angry at the men – and women – who stand silently, headphones in and eyes averted when harassment takes place. Or we can teach them the skills they need to know to assess the situation and intervene safely.

My intervention on the train was textbook bystander intervention. I’ve been trained on it, and the training actually works. If your school or employer hasn’t trained you on addressing troubling behavior or situations that make you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have all the tools you need to keep the people in your work or campus community safe. Whether workplace sexual harassment, campus sexual assault, or street harassment, there are practical skills that will enable you to speak up and take action safely.

What can you do?

Start a conversation about bystander intervention training with your boss. Check out this week’s video on bystander intervention training at work.

Need a place to start? Check out Mentors in Violence Prevention or Alteristic for examples of evidence-based programs on bystander intervention. A local rape crisis center will also likely have a program like this – please pay them, even if they don’t ask you to do so!

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