Bystander intervention is a strategy that teaches onlookers to insert themselves both indirectly and directly into harassment incidents, overriding the common instinct to feel frozen or unsure in such situations. It’s tailored to verbal and nonviolent scenarios, such as a person using hate speech or following someone down the street, and it’s not a new school of thought: A version of bystander intervention for sexual assault prevention has been taught on college campuses since 2006. The name itself references the “bystander effect,” the social psychological theory that individuals are less likely to intervene in a crisis when other people are present, studied after the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, which was reported at the time to have been witnessed by 38 people who did not intervene but was later proven to be false.
Hollaback!’s “5 D’s” method, which they debuted in 2012, is the most widely used in New York, including in the city’s Commission on Human Rights classes. Its tactics: “Distract” (pretending to know the person being harassed, dropping a drink near the harasser, etc.), “Delegate” (asking a nearby authority figure for help), “Delay” (checking in with the harassed person afterward), “Direct” (verbally confronting the harasser), and “Document” (recording video of the incident). Hollaback! classes particularly encourage the indirect options: in the Zoom class I attended, instructor Erika Dautruche joked that theater students and dramatic personalities often favor the “distract” strategy because it can include improvisational acting and disorienting bursts of public singing. For whatever it suggests about my fellow pupils, they overwhelmingly preferred the “distract” choice in a mid-class poll.