Thoughts about non-violent intervention

“If we want to be courageous, we need to practice courage in small things.  That’s the nature of training.  If you want to row hard in a race, you row everyday” (Mark Noris Lance).

Sometimes we need to practice practicing so we are able to be courageous when a situation arises.  A few weeks ago, the Peace and Justice Center generously hosted a workshop in non-violent interventions. In this workshop participants practiced ways to intervene if they saw verbal or physical assault in public.  While incidents of verbal or physical assault in public are on the rise, they are still rare and most of us won’t encounter an incident.  However, practicing can give us the courage to take action against violence in various settings and levels.

There is a lot of research on why people don’t intervene and bit on how to help people intervene in verbal or physical violence (Berkowitz, 2009; Burn, 2008; Latane & Darley, 1970).  One reason people don’t take action is that they don’t know what to do, a.k.a. they have a “skills deficit” (Cramer et al. 1988; Shotland and Heinhold, 1985).  This blog post breaks down things to consider, potential options you could take, and ways to practice.

Things to do to consider before intervening:

  • Notice what your body is doing/feeling. You don’t try to change anything about it, just do a little check-in.  Doing this will increase your ability to do whatever you are going to do next.
  • Try to check in with the person being targeted to see if they need help. You can do this by writing a note (using the note app on your phone and showing it to them is an option), silently asking by making eye contact/mouthing words, or verbally asking.
  • Try to check in with other folks around you. Maybe one person can video tape what is happening, maybe someone can call for help, and someone else can intervene.
  • Think about physical safety. Is there a way out of where you are?  Is there a way out for the person being targeted? Does the attacker seem to be alone?  Are you alone?

If you want to take action, the “4 D’s*” can help you decide what to do.

Direct:

This is the riskiest one to do, but can be perfect for some situations.

  • Directed at the person being targeted. Handy phrases: “This person seems to be bothering you.” “I want to help.”
  • Directed at the person attacking. Handy phrases: “That’s not ok.” “You seem upset, can I help you with something?” “We value safety in our community, and what you are saying isn’t safe.” “I have called the authorities, you should go now.” “

 

Distract:

  • Directed at the person being targeted: Address the person being targeted without acknowledging the attack is occurring. Potentially putting your body in-between the people. Handy phrases: “Hey, it’s so nice to see you, it’s been so long!”  “Do you know what time it is?” “I’ve been looking for a bag just like that, where did you get it?”
  • Directed at the person attacking: Address the person verbally attacking without acknowledging the attack is occurring. Handy phrases could be: “Excuse me, I’m trying to get to the store, do you know how to get there from here?” “Wow, all the cars are getting towed.  Isn’t that weird?” “Your shoes are so cool, what kind are they?” You can also dramatically spill/drop something or get in-between the people without acknowledging what is happening.

Delegate:

  1. Seek out an authority. Are you on a bus, in the street, in a store, in-front of a store? The bus driver, transit worker, or store supervisor all could have enough authority to step in. Go tell them they need to do that.
  2. Ask someone next to you to do a specific task and you do another task, such as one person distracts the attacker and the other checks in with the target.

Other things that don’t fit into the “D model”:

  • Sitting or standing next to the person being attacked.
  • Giving eye contact so the person knows that you know what is happening is not ok, and that you too feel unsafe.

A lot of times it isn’t possible to do something right in the moment.  You can still do lots of good afterward.  (This is the 4th D, Delay action)

  • Directed at the person targeted: Ask them if they are ok. Offer them water or snacks.  Offer to sit with them for a while. Offer to call someone for them.  Offer to walk them somewhere. Offer resources for further support.  Ask them if they want to make a report.
  • Directed at other people around who also witnessed the incident. Ask them if they are ok.  State something about how you feel.  Something like “I feel shaken after seeing this verbal/physical violence, this isn’t what our community is about.”
  • Depending upon the incident you can go to official routes like the police or your school administrators. You can also report at places like the ACLU or Southern Poverty Law Center.  Additionally, organizations like Hollaback! offer on-line spaces to share your story and inspire others.  Telling our story reduces the trauma of being part of verbal and physical violence, as witness or target.

Ways to practice:

  • Think about where you go in your daily life. When would you have the most ability to take action?
  • Read stories in places like Hollaback! and imagine you were doing the intervention.
  • Talk to a friend about how you would want to act if an incident happened in front of you.
  • Think about which of the “4 D’s” and in what way, do you think you could do in different situations.

May we all have the courage to practice courage.

*The “4 D’s” model is used by multiple organizations and individuals.  I couldn’t find an original source or citation for the model.

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