How To (Safely) Defuse Harassment And Bullying

Jul 21, 2017

On Thursday evening, more than 60 people gathered at the Union Project in Highland Park to learn how to safely intervene in incidents of bullying or harassment. The event was organized by the local chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, and Jewish social justice group Bend the Arc.

“I just want to say how heartened I am to see so many of you in the room,” said Rachel Kranson, with Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh. “I never was one to doubt that there are innumerable people of goodwill here in the city of Pittsburgh ... in today’s political climate, being a person of goodwill isn’t enough.”

In the first half of 2017, both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents rose sharply. There have been many non-Muslim Americans asking CAIR how they can help, said Ishfaq Ahmad.

“We have been trying to encourage people to learn more about who Muslims are and what Islam is so they can defend it to their friends,” he said. “But people have been wanting to do more than that. When you see somebody who is in distress you want to help them out.”

The groups said they wanted to empower people to make Pittsburgh a safe community for all. While the event had been planned for some time, it took on new urgency after an incident in Portland, Ore.: three men attempted to stop another man shouting anti-Muslim rhetoric and were stabbed.

Certified self-defense instructor Mona MacDonald of Lioness Martial Arts began the intervention training with basic safety rules: to be aware of one’s surroundings, and to project confidence. Before acting, assess the situation, she said.

“Do I feel safe doing this? Is this going to make the situation worse for the other person? How near is help if I need it?”

McDonald then ran through “the five Ds” of intervention: direct, addressing the offensive behavior directly; distract, interrupting the situation; delegate, finding someone to help address the situation; delay, supporting the targeted person after an incident; and document, recording an incident.

Standing, the crowd practiced the third “D,” or looking for outside help.

“Let’s use our voices really loud this time, and call for help,” said MacDonald. “Ready? Go!”

“Call 9-1-1 now!” the room shouted in unison.

“Very good,” said MacDonald. “I have you do that here, again, because a lot of us don’t yell. We’re not comfortable yelling.”

Jumping in to divert bullying or harassment is inherently uncomfortable, she said, and asked the crowd to give reasons for overcoming it. Hands went up all over the room. “To protect someone who’s vulnerable,” said one woman. “To do the right thing,” said another. From another corner, “To encourage other people to do the same.”