Promoting positive bystander actions to address violence against women has been a constant focus area for progress. From the Bell Bajao campaign, which encouraged people to intervene in domestic violence cases by taking simple actions like ringing the bell, to its most recent campaigns Ignore No More and Dakhal Do, bystander action has been at the center of its work. .
Breakthrough realized that in order to achieve this goal, it is essential that they better understand the factors that motivate or prevent bystanders to intervene, especially in the context of violence against women. The lack of existing literature on the subject, especially in the Indian context, further confirmed his rationale for undertaking the study.
Breakthrough launched the Ignore No More campaign in partnership with Uber India in March 2020 and concluded it in March 2021 with a comprehensive study on viewer behavior.
What is spectator intervention?
Bystander intervention is a fundamental tool to prevent violence against women in public and private spaces. Observer refers to the people who surround a survivor when an act of violence is committed against a woman and has the potential or ability to act. Intervention represents any positive non-violent action (without morally prescriptive codes) taken by a bystander to immediately stop an act of VAW.
Why do people intervene?
The people who intervened provided several reasons for their actions:
- The need to do the “right thing” attests to the presence of a strong moral component in speaking.
- Some of the participants who were victims of child sexual abuse and domestic violence referred to unresolved anger at their own powerlessness at the time of the incidents and how this repressed anger was triggered each time they encountered sexual abuse or violence, as either themselves or witnessed others go through it.
- Some (both men and women) also spoke about their own journey towards better gender awareness. It often took them years to recognize certain types of violence and how it was symptomatic of skewed gender dynamics and patriarchal power.
- Some attributed it to their association with gender rights organizations, whether as volunteers, full-time employees, or general exposure to such spaces and issues.
Onil, a participant and social worker from Mumbai spoke about how the processes for establishing a sexual harassment cell in the office and conversations with one of his colleagues helped him to think about the notion of “consent” first. This turned out to be critical as it prompted him to read extensively about the concept and how it was key to gender rights.
How have people intervened?
From the perspective of an “active” bystander, intervention strategies and methods were influenced by multiple factors such as gender, age, socioeconomic status, awareness of gender rights, etc. Participants who had intervention experience shared interesting methods to help survivors. Often speaking up and reprimanding the perpetrator had a great impact in terms of stopping the incident. Other types of immediate intervention included:
- Exchanging seats with survivors / victims: The importance of quietly dealing with a GBV situation was important, particularly from the perspective of the survivor.
- Give one’s phone number to connect later (particularly intimate partner violence cases that imply that the woman might need time to reflect on her next step)
- Take the survivor for medical help.
- Physically escorting someone home when they are being harassed.
- Resorting to violence or using patriarchal scripts such as “Don’t you have a mother, a sister at home?”
Some of the participants were also attracted to other methods adopted as long-term repair mechanisms. A long-term intervention strategy shared by 30-year-old teacher Shakeel in Delhi involved community mobilization. Upon being informed by his students about his difficulty getting to school due to ridicule on the streets around the institution, he and some of his colleagues gathered to patrol the streets at peak hours. They also had the help of the police and made sure to patrol regularly. She says she helped the girls get to school with a feeling of security.
The role of bystander action in allowing a survivor to speak
- Social norms at stake: Many participants who had intervention experiences expressed their exasperation at the ‘silence’ of most victims of sexual abuse and violence. Some of the participants recognized the critical role that structural and social conditioning play in influencing female behavior and “choices.” Study participants noted how girls were taught from infancy to be submissive and not to challenge their surroundings, at least not overtly. However, it is important to state unequivocally here that, although it is the product of larger processes, it is not simply a hapless “victim” but a complex being who overcomes these obstacles in multiple subtle and covert ways.
- Intersection of violence against women and violence against children: As mentioned above, some of the participants who were victims of child sexual abuse and domestic violence referred to an unresolved anger due to their own helplessness at the time of the incidents and how this anger was triggered and prompted them to intervene in cases of violence against women. However, some participants also expressed deep distress even now when faced with abusive situations. One of the participants, who is a survivor of child sexual abuse, painfully recounted how every time someone tried to touch her inappropriately, she ‘froze’ without being able to react in any way.
Male and female observers: Is there a difference in focus?
There is also an interesting difference in the way men and women responded and intervened. Most of the men spoken to spoke about the dangers of being a ‘stranger’ while intervening for women unknown to them. Other passive bystanders questioned, often aggressively, the intervening man’s “right” to speak on behalf of a girl who was clearly unrelated to him. Some men also commented concerns about their safety as an important factor. This reality motivated some male bystanders to assume kinship or romantic relationships with the survivor to gain the “credibility” to intervene.
Some men also spoke about the difficulty of dealing with survivors who were not talking about what was happening to them. Some highlighted how the situation became complicated when, despite their intervention, some women did not acknowledge that the abuse had occurred. A male viewer spoke about how such an experience had led him to think of ways to deal with a situation in silence without drawing attention to the victim, hence the rationale for his strategy. This contrasts with a similar scenario in which a passerby intervened much more openly. Upon witnessing a girl being stalked by her male companion in a shared car, Aruna, 22, directly confronted the perpetrator.
As for the women themselves who face sexual violence in public transport, they spoke about the use of everyday objects as safety pins such as armor. The female travelers also demonstrated camaraderie with other fellow travelers by strategically and silently asking victims to move forward or step aside without drawing their attention. Avoiding potentially dangerous or violent situations is a common survival strategy employed by women while traveling.
A male viewer recounted how such an experience had led him to think of ways to quietly deal with a situation without drawing attention to the victim, hence the rationale for his strategy. This contrasts with a similar scenario in which a passerby intervened much more openly.
Results of the test:
- 78.4% of the respondents who identified themselves as women or others said they have experienced violence in public spaces (does not include public transport).
- 68.0% of respondents who identified as women or others said they have experienced violence while using public transportation.
- 70.0% of the respondents said that ideally they would like to help in scenarios of gender violence by intervening / expressing their opinion (individually or in a group).
|Those who intervened * and why?||Those who did not intervene and why?|
What can we do to promote spectator intervention?
- Move from the protection approach to investing in the agency of women and girls. The government should launch initiatives to promote individual action and behavior against violence against women. p. e.g. Farishte Dilli Ke scheme
- Creation of accessible notification systems, wide dissemination of notification information, guaranteeing the safety of the survivor and the spectator, and establishing notification tools in transport or other public places. This will allow an environment conducive to preventing violence in public spaces.
- Gender awareness for police personnel, citizen-police interfaces for better community action.
- Gender-sensitive curricula in the education system at the school level Introduction of gender equality practices among parents.
- The need to introduce systemic and policy changes for the prevention of violence against women and girls.
- Move from the protection approach to investing in the agency of women and girls. The government should launch initiatives to promote individual action and behavior against violence against women. for example, Farishte Delhi ke
The study was conducted with the support of Uber India and the IKEA Foundation.
Read the full report findings here: https://inbreakthrough.org/bystander-report/