Less than 24 hours after the United States elected Donald Trump to be the nation’s 45th president, the reports started coming in.
A gay man walking to dinner with his boyfriend in North Carolina said people in a car yelled homophobic slurs as they passed by. A Muslim woman turned to friends for help dealing with harassment during her daily commute to school. Instances of vandalism involving swastikas and white-supremacist messaging have popped up around the country.
Mark Potok, senior fellow at the hate watch group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), says that incidents of harassment and intimidation have indeed been on the rise in the last week and a half. “I think [the Trump victory] was a catalyst, in very many ways,” he told Refinery29 by phone. “Trump has spent 18 months firing up his followers, essentially attacking all kinds of different minority groups, and those followers feel that they’ve won and they can say anything they want.”
In an interview with 60 Minutes on November 13, Trump said that he was "saddened" to hear that some supporters were inciting violence in his name, calling on perpetrators to stop. "I would say don't do it, that's terrible," he said, "’cause I'm going to bring the country together."
Since November 9, the SPLC has documented a full 701 incidents of harassment, with immigrants, Black Americans, and Muslims being the most common victims, though Potok adds that the SPLC is seeing hatred directed at virtually every minority in America. “It’s as if the Trump campaign sort of tore the lid off Pandora’s box,” he said. The list includes encounters both in public places, such as on the street and on public transit, and in private spaces, like businesses and private property. Perhaps most troubling: the highest number of occurrences by far — nearly 100 — were at K-12 schools.
Though Potok says that the SPLC doesn't have other periods to compare it with, so they "can't prove it statistically," he says, without doubt the perceived increase in incidents of harassment is real: "There's no question at all that this has been quite an outburst."
With the rise in harassment, it's easy to feel frightened or depressed at the state of things. But take a deep breath. The world is still a good place, and there are ways you can help. Refinery29 talked to some community activists and hate-crime experts about how to help prevent incidents and stop harassment as it happens. Here’s what they told us.
You can report harassment that you experience or witness.We need to convince people that this is a real problem, says Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and “we need to condemn these incidents every single time we learn about them.” Though it may not be immediately helpful in times of stress, Weaver recommends reporting any incidents, either to the police or another organization such as the SPLC.
“The reason that we think it’s important to shed light on it is because we don’t want this to become the new norm,” she said. “And there are people out there who seem to think that this is not happening, or that it’s over-exaggerated. And from everything that we’ve seen, it is not over-exaggerated.”
Some states are taking steps to make it easier to report incidents — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey have both announced that their states have launched toll-free hotlines for individuals to report discrimination and harassment. If your state has no dedicated line, you should contact your local police department. "One thing that people should realize is that they are entitled to bias-free policing," Weaver says.
You can stand with others.Kayla Santosuosso, the deputy director of the Arab-American Association of New York, responded to harassment in her personal circle by trying to help a friend of a friend, a Muslim woman who posted on Facebook that she had been harassed and threatened on a New York City train during her commute to school.
“She had notified the police, but she was still facing the prospect of traveling to school on her own the following morning and, you know, was scared and wanted to see if anybody could accompany her,” Santosuosso told Refinery29. She reached out on Facebook to see if anyone could accompany the woman and got about two dozen responses. Santosuosso decided to try to match up other people in need of accompaniment with volunteers. She created a public Google form for people to sign up, expecting a few more names. As of Tuesday morning, it had more than 6,800 volunteers.
Santosuosso finds the number of people volunteering poignant. “Seven thousand people have signed up to volunteer, and I’ve probably gotten five people who have even mentioned [possibly wanting accompaniment].”
But you don’t need to sign up on a form to show your support. Santosuosso noted that the original woman who reached out had found a companion — who now drives her to school — via her own social network. “In some ways, this really is handled a lot better on a sort of local or personal network scale, because you can verify people’s identity," she said. "You can verify people’s intention, and you know whether or not someone is [capable] to be accompanying and potentially disrupting a potential conflict.”
You can be prepared to intervene.
“When there is not real danger of physical harm, I think it is really important for other citizens to stand up and defend the people who are being attacked and bullied,” said Potok. “That is what hate-crime victims need more than anything else.”
Salvador Muñoz, an artist and community organizer from Brooklyn who works with queer people of color on issues including harassment intervention, noted by email that intervention strategies are not one size fits all. “What works for one person might not work for you,” he wrote. As options, he lists actions such as distracting the harasser, bringing other bystanders' attention to the situation, or talking to the person being harassed and helping him or her get out of the situation. Many of the tactics are similar to ones laid out in a recent viral comic, which Weaver referenced in her own piece discussing the rash of incidents.
Something that our experts repeated to us: Don’t risk your personal safety. As Weaver said, “It might not be safe, and it might escalate the situation. But certainly where somebody judges that it could be safe to do that, that’s a way to intervene.”
And remember: If you are being harassed, it is not your fault.
One thing that several of our experts noted is that if you’re the one being harassed, it’s difficult to know what to do in that instant. “In the moment, they’re obviously in a tough situation,” said Weaver.
Muñoz emphasized that if you’re being harassed, there is no right or wrong way to respond. “One of the things that I try to remember is that, however it is that I’m reacting to the harassment that I’m experiencing is valid,” he said.
“So if it feels safer for me to not say anything in that moment and just ignore it and get off of the train after it happens, that’s valid," he continued. "If it feels in the moment like I need to yell back at this person who’s harassing me, that’s valid. There’s no wrong way to respond when you’re being victimized.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with the most recent count of incidents of harassment as collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center.