Right To Be recommends policy strategies that prioritize education, prevention, and reporting when it comes to harassment. We do not recommend strategies that increase criminalization of harassment.
Here’s why: We see harassment as a symptom of big societal issues, like racism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, ableism, and others…not as the result of “a few bad eggs.” Harassment is a learned behavior that’s been normalized in our inequitable society; it’s not a personality trait that some people have and others don’t. When you understand harassment as a societal problem rather than an individual one, the criminalization approach starts to feel more like playing “whack-a-mole” than like meaningful change.
Time and time again, we’ve heard from communities that experience harassment the most – young people, LBGTQ+ individuals, people of color, immigrants, and others – that they feel less safe with police present after harassment happens, due to the history of police brutality and related practices. Furthermore, too often we see criminal laws disproportionately applied to people of color, low-income individuals, and trans and gender-nonconforming people.
Bystander education is a well researched best practice for addressing violence. Research shows that bystanders are more likely to take action when they:
– have empathy for the people experiencing violence, and
– when they are familiar with a range of options for intervention.
On public transit and in public space, we recommend that bystander ads be the standard for anti-harassment public service announcements (examples include those developed in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Louisville). These ads should direct their audiences to additional resources, including bystander tips, places to report, and information on legal rights. To complement such PSA ad campaigns, we recommend developing flyers and related materials for distribution at subway stations. We also recommend printing information about what to do if you experience harassment on the leaflets attached to student metrocards, and including this information in new student packets.
In schools, we recommend implementing bystander intervention training at the middle and high school levels. If your school is interested in training, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We offer discounted training to schools, and when grant-funding allows, we also provide free training to at-risk groups.
Reporting harassment is more complicated than just going to the police. Many people worry that they won’t be taken seriously if they report their experience of harassment to the police. Moreover, not everyone feels safe or comfortable with the idea of involving the police. It is also not always clear which behaviors are illegal and thus likelier to receive police attention, and which aren’t illegal and are likelier to be ignored.
Yet at the same time, our research shows that when someone who’s experienced harassment shares their story, it helps to reduce their trauma and support their long-term healing.
To address these concerns, we recommend an online reporting platform with two main features. First, it should allow people to share their stories of harassment, as anonymously or openly as they would like, with Right To Be or another nonprofit organization. Second, it should give the user the option to simply click a button to send their report to other agencies such as the local Commission on Human Rights, City Council, or police if they choose.
We recommend such a system because it is designed to center the agency of the person who was harassed, and to give them as much control over their experience as possible. On the platform we describe, people would be invited to share their story only once in their own words, rather than being asked to repeat or relive their traumatic moment multiple times for multiple audiences or interviewers. Their story would be protected by a trusted nonprofit with expertise in the field. And they would have the choice to take further reporting action without feeling required to do so.
Such a reporting platform would also allow Right To Be or another trusted partner in the anti-harassment movement to collect aggregate data on harassment without exposing or compromising the identities and security of individuals who share their story of harassment. This data would provide insight from a wider range of people who experience harassment, as not everyone feels safe reporting directly to governmental agencies. The aggregate data could be publicized in an annual report with recommendations to address and prevent harassment.
To achieve an even broader scope of the problem of harassment, we recommend that self-reporting be paired with population-wide surveys. We recommend adding questions about the prevalence and impact of harassment into existing measures, such as the Department of Health’s annual Community Health Survey. We also recommend investing in research on how harassment impacts community members’ decisions related to work, housing, and education.
Often, women, LGBTQ+ people, and gender-nonconforming people report insensitivity, including outright refusal to file a report, when they try to report an incident of harassment or seek help. To address this issue, we recommend providing transit workers and the police with training on what harassment looks like, current processes, and how to appropriately respond to someone who experienced it.
Right To Be has trained the New York City Police Department and the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet). For information on trainings, email email@example.com.
Community safety audits can create safer cities and communities. In a safety audit, community members come together to walk through a physical environment, evaluate how safe it feels to them, identify ways to make the space safer, and organize to bring about those changes. Not only can safety audits bring attention to harassment and violence in public spaces, but they can also offer creative, community-centered solutions.
A common escape strategy used by those experiencing street harassment is to duck into storefronts for safety. Store employees should be trained in providing support to people fleeing situations of harassment. Trained businesses could utilize campaigns that signal themselves as “safe spaces” by displaying a sign or sticker in their front windows. This would build a sense of community care while driving business.
We supported local activists in London on The Good Night Out campaign to train restaurant, bar, and nightlife owners in responding when they witnessed harassment. We are also a partner of the Open to All campaign.
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