How to step in
- We have a simple three step system for stepping in.
- Check in with yourself and others to see if you understand the situation.
- Distract and divert to disrupt the situation.
- Recruit supporters and allies.
- After that, go back to the beginning and check in again.
A three step process
This is a simple three-step formula for stepping in effectively.
(Note that in practice the steps all kind of overlap, can happen in any order—and yes, it’s deliberate that there is a fourth step, but because it’s a repeat we didn’t number it.)
Step 1: Check in
The first step in Stepping In is simply checking that you are reading the situation right, and if action is even needed. This can include:
- Checking in with yourself: What are you seeing? How does it feel? What’s your gut telling you? If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right.
- Checking in with other bystanders: Are they seeing what you’re seeing? Do they have the same gut reaction? Do they think it needs action?
- Checking in with the victim: What does the victim say? Do they want your help?
You can do any or all of these.
Ideally, checking in gives you enough insight into the situation to know whether or not to go to the next step, or leave the situation alone.
What if the victim says they don’t want your help?
If you check in with the victim and they say they don’t need help, then you should probably respect that request.
- One possibility is that you’ve misread the situation and there was really no problem. That’s fine; don’t be embarrassed. You’ve helped maintain a culture of care.
- Another possibility is that the victim thinks your help will make the conflict worse. They likely know the situation better than you.
- However, if you are still uncertain about the victim’s safety, you might consider contacting someone else for a second opinion. For instance you might call the police to check out the situation.
As part of checking in, you need to evaluate your own safety. If the situation is dangerous, don’t try to step in by yourself. Go straight to recruiting help from other people.
It’s good to trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a good chance it’s not. If you feel like you should do something, then you probably should.
Step 2: Disrupt
When someone is moving the line there is a process playing out, and all you really need to do is disrupt that process in some way. Sometimes even small bumps can derail it.
One way to disrupt is to confront the mover:
- “Hey, leave her alone!”
- “Walk away, *******!”
- “You’re a disgusting human being and you should be ashamed of yourself!”
While confrontation might sound exciting, satisfying or heroic, in practice it is usually not the best idea. Confrontation can escalate the situation, making the mover turn on you, or make them punish the victim even more after you’ve gone.
A better way is to distract and divert. This means deliberately not focusing on the line move, but instead grabbing attention of either the victim or the perpetrator and then steering them away. And the distractions don’t even have to make sense; they can be pretty random:
- “Time to go home!”
- “Hey, can you give me directions to the police station?”
- “Who wants a kebab?”
- “Tracy, is that you?”
- *Plays “Wake Up Jeff!” by The Wiggles on full blast.*
Of course, it all depends on the specifics of the situation, but distract and divert is an example of a small, simple, non-confrontational way that you can disrupt the situation and help the victim be safe.
Step 3: Recruit
Finally, don’t think you have to be the only one to step in.
Instead, find ways to recruit allies and supporters, including:
- Other bystanders
There are all sorts of ways in which supporters can help:
- You can ask them to step in for you
- You can ask them to physically be around you while you do it—having extra bodies and eyeballs can be the most effective form of influence
- They can help you split the attention of the victim and the line mover, so you can distract and divert them separately
- They can keep an eye on the situation while you go get more help, or the other way around
Social support improves almost every intervention, so when you see something you’re uncomfortable with, make sure you look around for people who could help you.
Recruiting doesn’t just help this specific intervention, it reinforces a whole culture of care.
Step 4: Go back to step 1
The final step is to go back and check in with the victim again.
- How are they feeling?
- Are they safe now?
- Will they be safe in future? Today? Tonight? Tomorrow?
- Do they need any further support? From who?
Small, simple line move situations can usually be resolved easily, but if the relationship is more complicated, or if the mover is particularly insistent or aggressive, then the victim might need more long term support.
Again, you do not have to deliver this support yourself—there may be other people, including professionals and authorities, who can better provide this support.
But by checking in again, you can confirm that your intervention has worked at least for now, and that the victim is comfortable with their next steps.