You’re at work and you’re cornered by a harasser. Legal and administrative remedies are vital to prevent this situation and to punish the perpetrator after the fact. But in this moment, you still need to stay safe.
Fortunately, feminists have developed an intervention tool kit of practical, principled techniques, inspired by women’s long history of using nonviolent action to stop injustice. Nonviolent direct action is a form of civil disobedience designed to disrupt the harasser’s agenda. These are tested tactics, and there are well-grounded reasons why they work. Take action. The same tools work whether we’re defending ourselves or intervening to rescue a colleague.
Sexual bullies count on our fear and silence, humiliation and impotent anger; they expect us to be intimidated and unsure. Do the unexpected. Derail the harasser fast with one of these effective tactics:
#1: Use the all-purpose statement. No drama, no debate. “Stop harassing women. I don’t like it—no one likes it. Show some respect.” Use a matter-of-fact tone. If you get any back talk, don’t take the bait. Simply repeat the boundary: “Stop dissing women.”
#2: Name the behavior. Don’t smile. Don’t say please. You are not making a request. Face the harasser and use a calm, steely voice. Two steps: Describe out loud whatever he’s doing, then give a dead-serious command. “Your hand is on my body. Step back now.” It instantly shifts the power dynamic in the moment.
#3: Use an interruption tactic to cut off the behavior quickly. Put your hands in a time-out T, or put your palm up in a stop sign. Look straight at the harasser and say, “Stop right there.”
#4: Force the man to explain. Take control by asking neutral fact-finding questions, like a journalist. “That’s so interesting. Why do you think it’s OK to ask me to give you a massage?” You’ve just flipped the dynamics.
#5: Organize consistent group action against a persistent harasser. Every time Joe starts talking sexist/racist trash, he should get the same no-nonsense response from any co-worker around: “I don’t want to hear it.” It’s a one-second technique, but it blocks harassers like a barricade.
#6: Document the incident on the spot. “You expect me to trade sex for a promotion? I need to video this on my phone.”
#7: Use a short, direct A-B-C statement or write an A-B-C letter to the harasser (when he does A, the effect is B, and you want C instead). Be specific about A and C. “When you call women ‘sweet ass,’ it’s a put-down. Use our names from now on.”
#8: Use basic self-defense. If you’re pinned against a wall, put your palm under the harasser’s chin and push up—forcing his head back will unbalance him and get him off you. There are ways to break free from most common grabs with minimum force. Take an aikido class if you can.
#9: If you’re a bystander, speak up on your own account; tell the abuser you will take action. Help document the behavior.
#10: Recruit unexpected allies. Nonviolent action changes the rules; it can turn apparent adversaries into allies. Don’t assume the bully’s buddies like what he’s doing. Challenge them to intervene. Men with ethics break the silence about sexual aggression. Passive complicity is over.
Consistent, everyday intervention has a cumulative effect. It redefines the workplace culture, de-normalizing harassment as an accepted practice. Shut down the serial harassers. And if your boss pulls a Harvey Weinstein, here’s your instant intervention: “Put the penis back in the pants right now.