Bystander intervention: become a ‘stone catcher’

Since Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment in 1964, with multiple witnesses, but little intervention, there has been a plethora of research on the “bystander effect.” According to decades of experiments, the more people who are observing someone in trouble, the less likely each person is to help. One factor in “assuming” that someone else will jump in and help may simply be not knowing what to do to intervene.

The organization Hollaback!, a “global, people-powered movement to end harassment,” wants to change that. They recently published the 5D’s to responding as a bystander. Those Ds are: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct.

Distract: Derail the incident by interrupting it. You might pretend to be lost and ask for directions, or pretend to know the person being harassed. You could physically position yourself between the harasser and the target, spill your coffee, drop your change or otherwise make some commotion.

Delegate: Get help. Find a supervisor, a teacher, a big burly guy, call 911, or otherwise enlist support in stopping the harassment. 

Document: Record the incident. Without Darnella Frazier’s video, the world would not have seen the murder of George Floyd.

Delay: Many types of harassment can happen quickly. If the incident is over, don’t delay. Check in with the person who was harassed, offer support, get help and share resources are a few ideas for helping after the fact.

Direct: Before you decide to respond directly, assess the situation: Are you physically safe? Is the person being harassed physically safe? If you choose to intervene, you can call out the behavior or, like the two cyclists that caught Brock Turner raping an unconscious woman, tackle the guy and hold him for the police. (Obviously, use discretion here.) 

Whether it’s bullying on the playground, knocking old women to the ground and kicking them, sexual harassment within a politcal party or workplace, we need to not stay silent. Indeed, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” 

As we speak up, we become the “stone catchers” that Bryan Stephenson talks about in his book “Just Mercy.” 

As I wrote recently for the Deseret News, being a stone catcher might mean bearing another’s burden when it’s the sharp and heavy stones of grief and loss that threaten to overwhelm them. Or when those stones look like loneliness, depression, anxiety and fear. Being a stone catcher might mean using our voices to amplify those voices not being heard, using our breath to speak for those who cannot breathe. It could mean speaking up while others remain silent — or who are loudly shouting that the person on the ground deserved to be stoned, raped, arrested or shot (fill in the blank).

It might mean speaking out against AAPI hate or Black hate or LGBTQ hate or Jewish hate. It could mean speaking up when harassment is occurring in the workplace. It could look like advocating for children with special needs or “getting proximate,” as Stevenson likes to say, with those experiencing homelessness or addiction or mental illness (or all of the above).

It’s the right thing to do and now, you have some ideas on how to do it.