CASS Workshops: “I Can Be the Next Potato Chip Man.”

Last Sunday, we facilitated a workshop on how to respond to public sexual harassment over at the Lamont Street Collective, an intentional community that has been welcoming local artists and activists, hosting shows, and organizing events in their home for over 40 years.

We welcomed one of our newest board members as a participant, along with members of an Asian and Pacific Islander advocacy organization, a woman looking to provide our workshop to her employees, and a number of concerned local residents. (Of course Moo, the Lamont Street Collective dog, also paid very close attention!) When we asked the group why they chose to attend, one woman shared, “My friends and I live in this neighborhood and we deal with harassment every day. We talk about it constantly.”

Facilitators Krystal and Kris worked with the group to define public sexual harassment and why intervention is so important. “These are not compliments or ways to connect with you, or any other excuse that a harasser will give. This is all about control and power. Whenever we say something back, we’re taking our control back.”

Many cited the fear of escalation as a deterrent to responding, expressing that any of the less severe forms of harassment could quickly become more violent should they end up aggravating the harasser. Kris reinforced that safety is the number one priority and stated, “The purpose of this workshop is to give you some tools so that, when you do feel comfortable, you know how to act.”


Participants then practiced a number of possible responses in two scenarios: as direct targets of harassment and as active bystanders intervening in difficult situations. After the exercises, the group felt empowered and ready to take the first steps toward addressing these issues out in the community. One man shared, “I’m usually not very assertive, but saying those lines felt really good… I have coworkers who harass people like this and I feel like now I know what to say to them.” Another joked, “I think I can be the next potato chip man.”

Want to feel a bit more empowered yourself? Join us at our next public workshop on June 20th at Potter’s House. Interested in hosting a workshop for your group? Email us at

How “Twilight” Explains Bar Behavior

Edward Cullen or just another night out in DC?

This piece was originally published by Borderstan, an online news site covering the Dupont-Logan-U Street neighborhoods in Washington, DC. It is republished by CASS with permission from the author. 

Author’s Note: All stories presented are actual life experiences of male and female Borderstan residents. Their anonymity shall be preserved.


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I’ve lost track of how many bars there are in Borderstan. In the neighborhood, we literally have places to imbibe on every corner. It follows that we have a robust drinking culture here, too. Along with drinking comes merriment, of which we greatly approve.

However, there is a darker side to revelry. Since Stephanie Meyer published the Twilight series, I’ve noticed that human conduct (under the influence) has gone from fun and frivolous to well, more vampire-like. After asking around, I realized I wasn’t the only one seeing this.

Here are some similarities between Twilight and DC bar behavior

“Every time he touched me, in even the most casual way, my heart had an audible reaction.”
-Bella Swan, Twilight, Chapter 16, p.335

“I was chatting with a hot guy during happy hour one Friday. He reached up to point to something, only his hand grazed my breast in the process. He didn’t apologize. I covered my breast at that point. Less than 10 seconds later, he grabbed the hem of my dress and shook it. I told him to knock it off, he got angry and touched me again! I left pissed and uncomfortable.”

“I’m feeling extremely insignificant...”
-Bella Swan, Twilight, Chapter 15, p.326

“It was really late one night on 17th street. I was walking home, and out of nowhere, a guy came out and spanked me with his hand. Just like that! I ran home.”

“Yeah, it’s an off day when I don’t get somebody telling me how edible I smell.”
-Bella Swan, Twilight, Chapter 14, p.306

“I was out one night with a guy friend on U Street. We’re drinking and making jokes, it’s all good! Until he leaned over, hugged me and wound up putting his face in my boobs, and bit me in the arm…don’t think that’s allowed in The Saloon! Not to mention he made an obnoxious comment about how “if he didn’t have a girlfriend…” Let’s just say Dracula is not my friend anymore, and that I feel really sorry for his girlfriend.”

“I tried to flirt — it worked better than I thought it would.”
-Bella Swan, Twilight, Chapter 9, p.184

“A year ago, I went out with a former friend. We had a flirty thing up to that point, but he had a girlfriend so I counted on nothing crossing the line. We had been drinking a lot…he started unbuttoning my top in the bar. I didn’t know what to do, so I just got out of there as soon as I could. Looking back, it was scary as crap. I don’t talk to him anymore, really.”

“I’m not quite that delicate.”
-Bella Swan, Twilight, Chapter 10, p.197

“Went out dancing with my girls on a weekend, and somehow wound up with some guy trying to grind me into a wall. His hands were everywhere, so I slapped him and told him to back off.”

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If you want to defend yourselves just in case your night of inebriated revelry turns Twilight on you, check out the self-defense classes at the studio in Chinatown. For even more resources, feel free to contact namita[at]borderstan[dot]com.

For those of you who don’t grope, grab, spank, bite or undress your friends or strangers without consent in public places, thank you for keeping our social lives and neighborhoods enjoyable.


“…Ignoring the [harasser] angers them, which results in a heightened barrage of abusive language”

Location: Thomas Circle
Time: Day Time (9:30am-3:30pm)

I was walking down the sidewalk and a man started trying to engage me and get my attention as I approached him. I avoided eye contact and kept walking past him. Angered that I ignored him, he shouted, “fat ass bitch!” as I passed. In my experiences of street harassment, this type of encounter has been the most common — ignoring the person angers them, which results in a heightened barrage of abusive language.

Submitted on 7/13/12 by “CE”

If you experience or have experienced sexual harassment on the DC Metro system:
Please consider reporting to Metro Transit Police;, on Twitter at @WMATAharassment, or 202-962-2121.

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Submit your story to help raise awareness about the pervasiveness and harmful effects of street harassment. All submissions are posted anonymously unless otherwise specified.

When to Step Up? Experts Advise How to Diffuse Troubling Situations

Image courtesy Daily News Record.

By Samantha Cole
Rocktown Weekly (Harrisonburg, VA)
Friday, June 29, 2012

Republished by CASS with permission from the author.

Emily Benner took a step toward the noisy group of men on the train, just as one began to unbuckle his pants.

“Hi! Can I sit down?” she recalls asking after a few tense moments. Her audience, a D.C.

Metro car full of passengers, was rapt. Benner — unassuming in stature, in her mid-20s with naturally blonde hair and an Eastern Mennonite University graduate — might have garnered the men’s attention if she’d instead blown the whistle clipped to her backpack.But, her soft words held their attention arguably better.

After a short exchange, sharing a laugh about turning their friend in, she drove her point home. “I have to tell you, as a woman, watching you make sexual gestures at someone out the window was very threatening to me.”Simple words delivered genuinely are often the key to intervening in intense situations, area experts agree. Whether a parent is berating a child in the grocery store or the customer at the checkout is attacking the clerk, when is it right — or safe — to intervene?

Bystander roles

“Bad things do happen,” says Barry Hart, Academic Director at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. “Things occur that are not healthy, but many people take a risk to say, ‘We are a community; how can we be a better community?’ ”

He outlines four “bystander roles,” attributed to colleague Kaethe Weingarten:

  1. You are a bystander who is oblivious to what’s happening,
  2. You’re aware of what’s happening, but don’t know what to do,
  3. You’re aware, but intervene in an inappropriate way,
  4. You feel confident enough under the circumstances to take potentially helpful action.

Frequently, Benner has crossed from passive to active roles (her spontaneous intervention experience includes stopping a bike theft, a man chasing a woman, breaking up a drunken fight and confronting a group of men when they harassed her friend), using techniques she has learned from Marty Langelan, a D.C.-based expert in the field of assault.

Langelan regularly teaches safety workshops at community organizations, including EMU’s Washington Community Scholars’ Center, where Benner serves as assistant director.

The insecurity most onlookers feel in the face of wrongdoing often keeps them stuck at the second stage. “I go by my gut,” Langelan says. “Trust your instincts.”

She and Hart believe that bystanders themselves don’t walk away from a violent situation unscathed. “There’s the issue of how sickening it feels, inside, when we see an abusive situation, but feel helpless to stop it,” Langelan explains. “In a very real sense, bystanders are harmed by seeing something wrong and doing nothing. That’s called a ‘moral injury.’ ”

Even after standing up for others many times, Benner still regrets the times she froze. Recently, when a customer threatened a cashier, she felt helpless. “I wish I had called the police, or maybe asked him to repeat [himself],” she remembers.

“Shock and shutdown” is a normal first reaction, Langelan assures.

Hart agrees; it’s a matter of being prepared with the right responses, “like anything in life,” he says.

Potential danger

After sitting in on several of Langelan’s workshops, Benner found herself mentally rehearsing crises, “forming neural pathways so they’re there when I need them,” she says.

Which situation-appropriate actions was Benner preparing to take?

Hart and Langelan suggest that in potentially dangerous situations, simply creating a distraction can break the cycle of violence. This can be applied to situations involving harassment or physical violence.

Langelan calls it the “voice of God” technique: a short, crisp command to stop, from a safe distance — she recommends at least 30 feet — that breaks their focus.

Hart recently used this approach right outside his office. When he saw a man viciously attacking another man, he thought, “This is not good. I need to do something.”

As he exited the building, Hart’s mind was rapidly recalling prior training. He asked a coworker to call the police, then stepped outside.

From a distance, he commanded, “Stop that, stop that!” he says. “It was enough of a shocker to them that they both looked up, and ran off in different directions.”

“Leave your cape at home,” urges Langelan. Don’t jump in the middle of violence to be a hero; even taking out your cell phone to snap a photo of the incident can be helpful to authorities. “The privacy stops when the violence starts … it’s something that affects the whole community.”

Blurred lines

In less blatantly violent situations, such as verbal abuse or mistreatment, the lines between right and wrong can be blurry for a bystander.

Nearly everyone has encountered a similar situation: the exhausted parent doling out unduly harsh discipline, or the diner disrespecting waitstaff.

Hart lays out two options: interject directly, or distract and diffuse.

But first, assess. “When these things happen, everybody’s emotional,” he notes. “You are also impacted by the emotion … this is when a quick analysis can be done.”

He gives the example of a store clerk berated by a customer. Approaching the offender — whose own background carries reasons for the behavior — risks their turning on you.

The second option is to show the cashier concern and respect, acknowledging what just happened rather than turning a blind eye.

Drawing attention might seem embarrassing or feel outside of one’s comfort zone, but when Benner merely made her presence known on the Metro, it opened an opportunity for real discussion. “They looked sympathetic as they nodded and just let me talk,” she says.

Langelan says that non-judgmental approaches are key, with women’s presence being especially dynamic-changing. “A woman who quietly walks up and says, ‘Whoa, what’s the matter here? How can I help?’ diffuses it just by her presence and body language.”

For her, seeing children being struck by parents especially hits home. She also considers public humiliation a form of violence.

“When kids get hit, it’s because the parent is out of control,” she says.

Interrupt the scenario with what she deems the “praise the baby” technique: in your most cheerful voice, compliment something visible about the child, such as, “What a cute toddler! Look at those sneakers!”

“It penetrates all those emotions” the frazzled adult is feeling mid-breakdown, she says.

Drawing on surrounding witnesses is another option to distract and diffuse, says Hart. “Ask people around you, ‘How can we help?’ That may be embarrassing, but I don’t think so. Most people would say a parent hurting a child or screaming at a child is wrong.”

Building safer communities

Although the streets of Harrisonburg are relatively tame, Hart, Langelan and Benner vouch for the universal value of communities where eyes and ears are open.

“Violence breaks the common bond of humanity,” Hart says. “It’s there for a reason. It happens because people have been violated themselves, in small and big ways.”

Langelan encourages more connections, especially with otherwise-overlooked members of society. “One of the simplest ways to make any neighborhood safer is to talk to people on the street,” she says. “Nodding, saying hello … it makes such a difference when people do start speaking up.”

As the train came to her stop that day, fellow passengers high-fived and thanked her for stepping in before the situation escalated.

“Sometimes people advise me to stop intervening, because it’s putting myself in danger,” Benner says. “But I feel like that’s a pretty narrow view … I’m not the center of the universe. If I encourage a culture of people speaking up for each other … then it’s a safer community for me, too.”






  • Have you ever intervened as a bystander?
  • Have you been in a situation where a bystander helped you?
  • What about a situation where you WISH a bystander had helped you?
  • Let us know in the comments!

Walk Home

With all of these experiences with street harassment, we forget about the importance of caring for one’s self. Whether it be the physical and taking self-defense class to the metaphysical, thinking about our healing process is a necessity in finding a safe space in ourselves.

We have partnered with Luminous Warrior for International Anti-Street Harassment Week to bring you a two hour safe space to discuss street harassment and finding inner peace. It’ll take place on March 18 from 11-1 p.m. at the Luminous Warrior studios (near Metro Center).

Although it is a free event, gratuities are welcome (for studio space). Please RSVP here, and spread the word!

Let’s create some OM when walking/commuting/biking home.


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