When Claire Kaplan offered to facilitate a bystander intervention training before a local January 21 rally to support the Women’s March on Washington, the response was so huge that she had to turn people away. She promised to coordinate additional trainings in the future, and she’s been busy doing just that.
“Hate violence, and violence in general, has always been a problem in this and other countries. We just know about it more often because of smart phones, social media and cyber communications,” Kaplan writes in an e-mail. “I would think that bystander intervention is even more critical [now], given the dramatic and well-recorded rise in hate violence since the presidential campaign and the alt-right movement, which seems to have been given permission to express their hatred of any group that isn’t white, Christian, heterosexual and male.”
Green Dot bystander intervention is an approach to prevent violence by teaching bystanders how to act in potentially threatening situations, and Kaplan is a trained facilitator. She’s also the director of the Gender Violence & Social Change program at UVA’s Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center. She says this particular training is proven through research to be effective and is being adopted by college campuses and middle and high schools across the nation.
Kaplan describes her first public, volunteer training at IX Art Park before the women’s rally as ”just the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’ve been doing this work for years now. It almost felt like I was bringing them the gospel.”
Kaplan isn’t alone in her efforts. Charlottesville resident Sara Tansey has coordinated two bystander intervention trainings of her own, the second inspired by the experience of her friend—a woman of color—at Mayor Mike Signer’s January 31 rally to name Charlottesville a “capital of the resistance.”
“Surrounded by 500 people who were supposedly committed to resisting the in-your-face white supremacy represented by [Donald] Trump, she and two [other women of color] were left on their own to confront a known white supremacist and vocal Islamophobe with a gun,” Tansey says in an e-mail. “Speakers on the stage made flippant comments about it getting loud in one part of the crowd but did nothing to shut down this violent, hateful man, making any claims of a capital of resistance laughable at best and duplicitous at worst.”
If you see someone being harassed, approach them and ask what they want and need, she says. Tansey also suggests not calling the police unless you’ve checked in with the person who is being harassed and they give you permission.
“Often when the police are involved, they direct their force against the person being harassed,” Tansey says. “Vulnerable communities are targeted by the police just like they are targeted by white supremacists.”
Why intervene? Says Tansey: “It is time to activate white people to absorb some of the violence historically directed at people of color.”
“If you believe you are witnessing harassing, abusive or violent behavior, the first issue is your own safety,” says Claire Kaplan. “The good news is that there are plenty of things one can do without putting your own life at risk.”
At the University of Virginia, Kaplan uses the Green Dot bystander intervention curriculum to teach the three D’s for reaction.
Direct: Speak to the parties directly and calmly. You could address the target: “Are you okay? Do you need help? Would you like to come with me to a safe place? Can I call someone for you?” Or the abuser: “Hey, that’s not cool, leave her/him alone.” Direct action means addressing the behavior, not heaping abuse on the offender.
Distract: Accidentally spill something on the ground near the scene and then apologize profusely. Tell the abuser that someone is breaking into their car. Ignore the abuser and address the target by engaging her/him in a random conversation: “Oh my gosh, it’s great to see you. How are you? How are the kids?” The target will get it and join in.
Delegate: Ask others who are nearby to help you intervene, bring the abuser’s friend over to intervene, ask a bartender for help. If a weapon is present, or if you are alone and don’t feel that you would be of much help, move quickly to a safe location and call the police.