A Grassroots Movement of Courage and Compassion
What is nonviolent intervention?
Nonviolent intervention is about disrupting an unwanted behavior rather than confronting the behavior with force.
Before intervening you may want to say a little prayer for guidance, take a few deep breathes, remember the basic humanity of all individuals or do something that allows you to be centered and calm. It is almost impossible to intervene in a nonviolent way if you are feeling engaged when you are trying to intervene.
How do I intervene?
Always be aware of your surroundings. If possible, remove yourself and the person being targeted from the situation immediately without engaging the perpetrator at all. Exit a train or bus. Go into a business where other people are located. This is not retreating. It is being smart!
If leaving immediately is not possible, try disrupting the perpetrator’s behavior by
creating a diversion that moves the perpetrator’s attention away from his/her victim.
Here are some examples:
For example, say to the perpetrator in a friendly and matter-of-fact voice:
“Excuse me, do you know what time it is?”
“I love your coat. I’ve been wanting to get my boy/girl friend one just like it. Where did you get it?”
“Oh my gosh, Uncle Harry (Aunt Jane), is that you? Oh, it isn’t? I’m so sorry. You would not believe how much you look like Aunt Jane! The resemblance is scary! I’m so sorry for bothering you.”
“Excuse me, I’m not sure what stop is coming up. Are we near…?”
“Excuse me, I’m lost. Where is Main Street? Can you give me directions to the grocery store from here?”
“Excuse me, do you know what aisle I can find the candy?”
Calming and politely ask the perpetrator if you can help him or her. Be prepared to calmly listen to the person no matter what the person says. Then say something like, “Okay. Thanks for explaining. We’ll be leaving now.” Then escort the victim away from the situation.
I’ve used some of these diversions on several occasions and it stopped the harassment immediately every single time!
Other ways of creating a diversion include: loudly singing a song or getting up and starting to dance. Start clapping your hands and ask those around you to do the same. Be creative and use the skills you have to create a diversion.
What if diversion doesn’t work?
When you need to intervene between the victim and the perpetrator it’s important to follow certain guidelines.
Watch your proximity to the perpetrator. If possible, stay away from the perpetrator and move directly to the victim without engaging the perpetrator in any way. Escort the victim away from the perpetrator.
Don’t make eye contact with the perpetrator. Watch him or her out of the corner of your eye and try not to turn your back on the perpetrator. Absolutely no starring. This is almost always seen as a challenge and we’re not challenging – we’re changing the situation.
If you need to address the perpetrator do so in a controlled, polite, measured voice. Remember, you’re not being polite because you agree with what the person is doing. You’re being polite because it is unexpected and will not escalate the situation.
If you are with others, surround the victim and escort the person away from the situation.
What if a person is being physically harassed?
Of course, you want to get the victim out of harm’s way without getting hurt yourself as quickly as possible. First, place a call to 911 to get police. Give your location, explain someone is being physically harmed and needs immediate help. Then leave your phone on so that your interaction can be overheard by the 911 operator.
If another person is available, ask the other person to call 911 and then to make a video of what’s happening so that the perpetrator can be prosecuted when possible.
Then create a diversion to stop the physical harassment.
If you need to yell for help:
Call 911 first. Then loudly yell for help. Rather than yelling, “Help! Help!” loudly describe the situation. For example, “I need help right now. A man wearing a brown jacket and jeans is beating a man. Call the police. I need help to stop him.” Continue yelling and add, “Stop what you’re doing. Please stop!”
Prevention is always better
People who cannot or will not hide their difference have always known that they must be very careful of their environment and think about their safety no matter where they go. For some of us especially with white skin, you may not have lived with this hyper vigilance of the safety of your environment. In these times of increased bigotry and hate incidents, we must all be aware of our environment – and certainly if you are declaring yourself an ally by wearing an “I’m with you” button.
By wearing this button you are telling those around you that you will stand with victims and interrupt any kind of bullying or aggressive behavior. Your best intervention is a quick exit.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Sit near doors or near the driver when on public transport.
Stay in well-lit places.
Don’t walk around alone after dark.
If your difference is easily noticed by others, don’t walk alone. There is power in numbers!
Trust your gut and intuition. If a situation doesn’t look right, get out without second-guessing yourself.
Look for people whose difference is easily noticed and position yourself closer to that person so that you can act quickly if needed.
Why do nonviolent interventions work?
When a perpetrator is attacking another individual that person is acting out of fear, rage or hatred. When a perpetrator is experiencing these emotions that person’s arousal system has been activated and the person will not be able to access higher brain functions such as impulsive control or rational thought or logic. Aggressively interacting with a person when he/she is in this state will only escalate the situation. Confrontation in this moment will always add to and feed the aggression because of this hyper arousal. Diversion and calmness often works because it does not add to the aggression and does not ask the person to use logic or be able to have empathy in that moment. The perpetrator is expecting a fight. Nonviolent interventions are a surprise. Surprises usually stop whatever a person is doing – at least long enough for you and the victim to leave the situation.