If you see something, say the RIGHT thing :: Thoughts on intervening

Posted on November 14, 2013

By now, most of you have heard about the sexual assault at Code Mash. Justine — and others that come out about sexual assault — are some of the bravest people in the world. They have opened themselves and their lives up to the scrutiny of an often cruel world. And I salute them.

But what I really want to talk about are the witnesses. Zach, who was talking with the developer who intervened, wrote a thoughtful post on intervening — why he didn’t and why he will in the future.

There seems to be a new awareness of the phrase that all NYC Subway riders are constantly bombarded with: “If you see something, say something.” And I think this is amazing and could help continue to decrease the number of sexual assault in the US, which currently is someone being sexually assaulted every 2 minutes, but has been falling since the early ’90s.

Saying something is good. But saying the right thing is better. What is the right thing?

The right thing to say when intervening is a question where the person has an out if they answer ‘yes.’

In this particular story of sexual assault, the developer who intervened asked “Do you want to go smoke?” Answering “Yes” gave the women a way out of the situation.

If he had asked “Are you OK?” Answering “No” would give the woman an out of the situation.

Do you see the difference?

Women are socially conditioned to say “yes,” particularly to men and more particularly to men in power. Also, asking a question in which they have to admit, at that moment, in front of their attacker, that they are being attacked is really hard.

So please, if this incident has convinced you that you should intervene if you see a fucked up situation, please ask a question where answering ‘yes’ (not ‘no’) gives the person an out. Even better ask an innocuous question that doesn’t require the person to say they are in a fucked up situation.

Some good questions:

  • Are you ready to leave?
  • Do you want to go smoke?
  • Let’s go outside
  • Can I talk to you for a second?

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