Being a victim of harassment is horrible, and so is witnessing it happening to someone else. But what should you do in that situation? Are there certain rules? What if you don’t do anything? Should you ignore it? Should you fight back?
Being in the moment can totally throw you, but this little guide will hopefully give you the basics to remember if you ever end up in the middle of something nasty.
What counts as harassment?
Harassment is any behaviour from someone that makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened. It could mean unwanted texts, online and offline abuse (verbal and physical), stalking, or threats.
Pretty nasty stuff, right?
The kind of harassment we want to tackle in this guide is public abuse, either on the streets or on public transport. This kind is often classed as a ‘hate crime’.
What’s the difference between harassment and a hate crime?
Hate crime is a specific type of harassment that’s based on prejudice. You’re a victim of hate crime if you’ve been or are being abused for the colour of your skin, religion, sexuality, gender, or disability.
Being a victim of a hate crime can be a harrowing experience, but there are many people and organisations out there who can and will listen and support you.
I’m being harassed RIGHT NOW, what do I do?!
Try to not panic. You will be ok. The main thing to remember is not to engage with this person, as they’re likely irrationally riled up and threatening. Your safety comes first.
The British Transport Police (BTP) have a number you can text to report any crime or unwanted behaviour on public transport. Text what’s happening and your location to 61016. This is especially helpful if you need to be subtle and can’t call 999.
Sometimes it can be SO tempting to turn around and tell this person why they’re being such a massive knob, but the sad truth is: if someone has started harassing you in public then they’re clearly confident enough to do so, and are unlikely to listen.
BUT, there are some things you can do, as well as reporting the incident.
If you’re on public transport:
– Try and move carriages/seats
– Get off at the next stop if you feel in danger
– Look for the nice faces of people who want to help you.
If you’re on the streets then:
– Just keep walking
– Make sure you stay where there’s lots of people – ie. don’t go down any side streets
– However tempting it may be, don’t look at the perpetrator
– Maybe put some earphones in or read a book (this goes for being on public transport, too).
Just remember to not give the big baby any attention. They’ll soon get bored when nobody’s listening to them.
Can I report it afterwards?
Absolutely! You can report it even months afterwards, and we’d encourage you to do so if you feel comfortable doing it. You can speak to station staff if you’re travelling by train, the bus/tram driver if it’s safe to, or the police. You can dial 999, text BTP on 61016, or call BTP on 0800 40 50 40 at any time.
You might feel like the incident wasn’t actually that bad, or that nobody will listen to you, or that there are worse things for the police to be tackling, but you are completely within your rights to report a hate crime or harassment. That person could end up doing worse things to other people and anyway, your feelings are valid. You should never have to put up with behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
What about if I see it happening to someone else?
It can be so, so hard to know what to do in this situation. You likely feel like you should DO something to stop it, but also feel terrified. And that’s ok! Your fight/flight response will kick in and your body may well freeze, run away, or try to tackle the situation. Don’t be ashamed by your reaction.
The general advice from the British Transport Police is to not engage with the perpetrator, especially if they’re angry and violent as that could make the situation worse. Instead, it’s better to talk to the victim. One woman has even created a cartoon to help bystanders support someone during a hate crime – the main points to remember are:
– Stand or sit with the victim so they know they’re supported
– Talk about rubbish with them! Ask how they are, comment on the weather, or ask what they’re having for dinner tonight.
– In an ideal situation, more people will then join you (it always just takes one person to encourage others) and you’ll create a buffer between the perpetrator and victim.
– Creating these safe spaces will be so important to the victim, and supporting them is way more important than confronting the douchebag harasser.
– Ask the victim if they want you to get off the train/bus/tram with them and stay until they feel comfortable, or if they want some support reporting the incident.
– Remember, you can encourage them to report it, but you can’t force them. It’s important to let them be in charge.
– If you can’t stick with the victim during the incident, you can always try to record it if it’s safe to do so. This will provide solid evidence for the police. And it might be tempting to share this on social media, but it’s always best to contact the police first.
I feel crap about what I experienced. What shall I do?
It’s totally normal for something like this to affect you. You could feel anxious and low immediately afterwards, or even in a few months’ time. But thankfully there are many organisations who can help you feel better.
Victim Support can give you practical and emotional support, and can help you with the process of reporting and dealing with harassment/a hate crime. Visit their website here.
True Vision can give you more information on how to report a hate crime. They offer a service where you can report the crime anonymously online, which may feel less intimidating.
Tell MAMA supports victims of anti-Muslim hate. They have heaps of specialised information and you can even speak to them via WhatsApp.
Stop Hate UK is charity supporting all victims and witnesses of hate crime, and have specialised support for LGBTQ+, trans, and disabled victims of hate crime.
Community Security Trust is a charity that protects British Jews from antisemitism. They have lots of information and a reporting service.
The Mix is a charity supporting all under-25s in the UK with any issue. You can speak to their trained team via their helpline, forums, email, or one-to-one chats.
Childline can support you if you’re under 19. Their support is also available via phone, email, and one-to-one chats.
Being harassed or witnessing a hate crime can be horrible experiences, but always remember that you’re in control of how you deal with it afterwards. There are so many people out who will be on your side, including us! You’re amazing and important, whoever you are, and we can all do our bit to help put a stop to harassment and hateful behaviour.