If You See a Woman Being Harassed and Do Nothing You Are Part of the Problem

Posted April 2, 2017 from Bangladesh

A few years ago, a male friend of mine slapped me, and tugged my clothes on a busy street in Dhaka over an argument. He was just an average guy my age and we studied at the same university. But being a man, he dared to physically abuse me in broad daylight in front of a crowd.

He had already taken away my mobile phone to make sure that I was unable to call my family. I felt numb with fear. My senses stopped working. I caught a glimpse of a group of security guards who were standing just a few feet away, watching the drama. None of them bothered to interrupt and say, “What the heck is going on here?”

Now every time I notice an adult man walking towards me, my mind goes into special alert mode. I start calculating his expressions, appearance, age, movement and speed of walking to determine what I should do if he comes too close to me. My brain has run this algorithm so many times that it takes only a fraction of a second to get the result and take action — sometimes I just cross the road, sometimes I start running. I know no-one is going to intervene to help me.

I’m not alone. In New Delhi,40 percentof women have been sexually harassed in a public place such as a bus or park in the past year. Almosttwo-thirdsof women in the UK say they were victims of unwanted sexual attention in public. The figure is even higher for women inIsrael. What’s worse is that there are often witnesses to the abuse but they are too stunned, too scared or too indifferent to intervene.

On 20 March 2016, a 19-year-old girl was brutallyraped and murderedin Comilla, a small city in Bangladesh. Ten days before that, a woman wasgang rapedon a bus in India and her 14-day-old baby boy was killed by the rapists in front of her 3-year-old daughter.

Around the world, many women wonder daily if they will be able to reach home safely. It seems that for women and girls, safety is not a right, it’s a privilege.

It’s telling that while many people like thevideoof Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying, “I am a feminist” on Facebook, they still turn their faces away when a man gropes a woman on the street. Be it strangers harassing a schoolgirl in a busy city or an abusive husband beating his wife in a remote village, more often than not, there are people nearby who choose to ignore instead of act. This collective silence indirectly offers the perpetrators impunity.

Sometimes people are not sure what to do when they do witness harassment or they worry about their own safety. I acknowledge that sometimes people who intervene get hurt, as recently happened inLos Angeles, or even killed, as happened inEgypt,Germany, andUSA.

But there are ways to reduce the risk. Thanks to the Internet,creative ideasthat motivate bystanders to speak up are just a click away.Distractions and indirect interventions, such as asking for directions, asking for the time, talking loudly on the phone or simply clearing one’s throat to make a noise, are easy ways to stand beside the victim. Women’s groups such asPolli Shomajin Bangladesh andGulabi Gangsin India have successfully shown that bystanders can make a real difference.

Every time a man looks at a woman in an obscene way and others nearby just turn away, he gets a simple message, “Enjoy. No one will stop you.” Encouraged, he may become bolder, and take things a step further. Leering may lead to whistling, whistling to groping, and groping to attempts to force a sexual encounter.

When an attack results in murder and becomes a media sensation, people watch the news feeling a sense of shock and pity for the victim. But they forget that the perpetrator didn’t become a rapist overnight. When he was a 10-year old boy and started whistling at the girls passing by, perhaps no one told him his behavior was inappropriate. Today, someone else paid the price.

I am not suggesting that we should stop talking about the victims of harassment. But we should also focus on those who witness the abuse. Women, men, victims, perpetrators, bystanders - we all are part of the conversation and we all have a role to play. However, discussion around this issue often solely focuses on women, leads to dos and don’ts for women, and pushes the burden of guilt towards women. If we are in a position to do something, but we don’t do it, the blood stains our hands too. So rather than pointing our fingers at women, please, can we instead ask ourselves this simple question? “Next time when I see someone being harassed, what will I do?”

Comments 6

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Jill Langhus
Apr 02, 2017
Apr 02, 2017

Hi Anjalisarker. Welcome to World Pulse:) Thanks for sharing your important story. I agree. People do look away because they don't want to be dragged into a skirmish. I'm not sure what the fear is, but I think it's time for people to stand up for transgressions as well, and be more compassionate about the welfare of others. Have you seen what Safecity is doing in India. If this was a global effort think about how much safer women and girls would be and feel. http://safecity.in/

Tamarack Verrall
Apr 02, 2017
Apr 02, 2017

Dear Anjalisarkar,

This is such a important message, all the more powerfully said by your telling us about your own experience with this sudden and unexpected violence, that so many of us have also had happen. Your description of having to be on high alert after is so familiar, something that I believe most women on earth have learned to do by necessity. By writing in such detail and with such a clear call for and excellent suggestions on how we can do better a intervention, your story will I am sure have a strong effect. As we work to change this, we do need to be ready to intervene. I appreciate your turn of the discussion from too often only recognizing the women hurt, to what more we can each do in the moment.

In sisterhood,


Renee Shakti Gaia
Apr 20, 2017
Apr 20, 2017


Apr 04, 2017
Apr 04, 2017

Welcome to World Pulse and you raise a great point. I personally believe that by being a silent bystander you are in some ways encouraging the perpetrator. Like you mentioned thanks to social media and technology, nowadays there are many ways to raise your voice or intervene. So if you see something, do someting!

Della Rae
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dearest Anjalisarkar ~ First warm welcome to World Pulse!  Thank you for this ever so critical piece that you have written.  Just last night I took my son to experience the documentary "The Mask You Live In".  This shines a light and calls attention to your words "....But they forget that the perpetrator didn’t become a rapist overnight. When he was a 10-year old boy and started whistling at the girls passing by, perhaps no one told him his behavior was inappropriate." Here is a link to the preview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc45-ptHMxo

Blessings and please keep writing. In solidarity,


Ann Forsthoefel
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear Anjalisarkar,

Wow, your post is amazing so informative, and you pint out so clearly that this is an issue we are all involved in and can solve together. Your post immediately wanted me to become more informed on what I can do and to make sure I educate all I know on how to be an active bystander and stop harassment immediately! I found this great website https://www.samuelmerritt.edu/sexual_violence/bystander to share! 

Thank you again for inspiring me to become more informed and for raising this topic!


In 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden joined leaders from universities, media companies, the sports world, and grassroots organizations to launch the "It’s On Us" campaign against sexual assault on college campuses.  IT'S ON US is a cultural movement aimed at fundamentally shifting the way we think about sexual assault. 

From the website this is what the state:

Raising awareness. Holding ourselves and each other accountable. Looking out for someone who cannot consent.

IT’S ON US. All of us.

If you haven’t already, join the movement, spread the word, and take the pledge at ItsOnUs.org.

How to Be an Active Bystander 

There are many ways that you can help. Be an intervener! Stop potential incidents before they occur, educate yourself and others, talk to and support your friends so that they will intervene as well! The best way bystanders can assist in creating an empowering climate free of interpersonal violence is to diffuse the problem behaviors before they escalate.The following are examples of the range of language that individuals and groups can use to message what they and their members can do about sexual assault.


Recognize that if someone doesn’t or can’t consent to sex, it’s sexual assault

Educate yourself and others about interpersonal violence, gender inequality and the causes of gender violence.

Confront friends who make excuses for other people's abusive behavior

Speak up against racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes, music, remarks, etc.

Refuse to purchase any magazines, videos or music that portray women in a degrading manner or include violence against women.

Confront abusive behavior by not remaining silent.

Understand how our own attitudes and actions (including jokes, music you listen to, etc.) may perpetuate sexism and violence and work toward changing them.

Gently offer our support if we suspect that someone close to us is being abused or has been sexually assaulted or stalked.

Take responsibility for our actions and your inaction

Realize we have a role to play in stopping sexual assault

Create an environment where men and women feel, and are, safe

Step in if a friend is doing something that could lead to sexual assault

Get someone home safely if he or she needs help

Hold our friends accountable

Tell our friends if what they are doing is wrong.

Never blame the victim

Be more than a bystander

Stop a sexual assault any way we can

Keep an eye on someone in a vulnerable situation

Not look the other way

Do something to get in the way of a sexual assault

Step up and say something

Let our friend’s know what is and is not acceptable

Not give our friends a pass

Help a victim report a sexual assault if he or she wants to

Look out for someone who has had too much to drink

Get in the way if we see something happening

Stand up to those who tell us it’s not our business

Say something when our friends are being stupid

Call non-consensual sex what it is—Rape

Act when we think someone is in trouble

Do something

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem

Always be on the side of the victim

Make sexual assault unacceptable

Take reports of sexual assault seriously

Stop someone from doing something we know is wrong