Journalist Joanna Chiu Fights Harassment On A Plane

Women collectively spoke up on a flight from Toronto to Vancouver when they noticed a teenage girl being hit on by a man in his thirties. Journalist Joanna Chiu chronicles the incident in a viral Twitter thread and an op-ed article entitled “I saw an older man harassing a teen girl on the plane. Here’s what I did about it” for her newspaper, The Star Vancouver.


Chiu Overhears

Optimally positioned to overhear the conversation that took place between the teenager and the thirty-year-old man, Chiu was the first person to speak out against the man’s behavior. Chiu reported overhearing him ask for a sexual photograph while simultaneously infringing on the teenager’s personal space. Chiu describes herself as having “rage-whispered” a response to the man’s request to no avail. The man simply removed himself to the bathroom, came back and continued his onslaught of flirtations.


Women Speak Out

Other women on the flight began to take notice of the man’s inappropriate behavior and started making comments signifying their disgust. It was not long before the flight crew became involved, handling the situation as Chiu describes it, “admirably”. A female head of flight service intervened and politely asked the man to move. The man promptly refused and began cursing. When he requested to speak to her boss, she replied, “I’m the boss, this is really serious and we could land the plane.” The man then finally agreed to move, allowing crewmembers to check up on the girl, file a report and continue the flight.


Male Silence

While the situation was resolved positively, Chiu noticed the absence of men who stood up in the girl’s defense. Unlike the plethora of women who made comments in regards to the thirty-year-old man’s audacity, there weren’t any men who did the same. Chiu wonders if this is because women can more easily spot predators, having themselves been teenage girls who were preyed upon by men of similar ages and characters to the one on the plane. Chiu asks, “maybe fellow women are more likely to pick up on warning signs early on in the conversation because we used to be teenage girls too?” Chiu also recounts incidents from her own past in which she was the young woman receiving unwanted flirtatious attention from older men that ranged from verbal flirtations to being given a kiss without her consent.


Chiu’s Call To Action

Chiu calls on all adults, men included, to intervene in situations that, while not crimes by definition of the law, are problematic and potentially dangerous. Women are not the only ones who have a responsibility to spot predators, men do too. One can only help but wonder how the situation would have played out if the head of flight service was a man. Would he have responded to the threat the thirty-year-old man posed with the same level of swiftness and firmness as his female counterpart? Would he have ignored the threat entirely like the flight’s male passengers? The answers to these questions remain unclear, making Chiu’s call for male participation in the fight against sexual assault and harassment a brave and necessary declaration. See Chiu’s Twitter thread for helpful tips and guidelines for bystander intervention!

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