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

Thread about airplane creeps: I’m on a plane from a late-evening stopover from and was very tired and had a row to myself to sleep but couldn’t avoid noticing what was going on in the row behind me.

— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu) March 25, 2019

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.

She was friendly and he seemed to take that as a welcome cue to get very familiar and started teasing her and kept saying that he wanted to take her out to eat, which she was ignoring. At this point I had to stay awake in case anything went further than that.

— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu) March 25, 2019

Women Speak Out

They checked other witness accounts and the head of the flight service (a woman) asked the man to move. He resisted then started swearing at me and asked to talk to the boss and the head flight attendant said “I’m the boss, this is really serious and we could land the plane.”

— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu) March 25, 2019

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

But none of the male passengers seemed to show they noticed what was going on. 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?

— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu) March 25, 2019

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

All adults need to be on guard and know there are things we can do to intervene even when a crime hadn’t technically been committed yet. Men need to figure out how to “spot creeps” in their vicinity as well and men can help too to prevent harassment or assault.

— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu) March 25, 2019

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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