Week 3: Distract—Providing a distraction to de-escalate a situation

By Joy Shaver and Melissa Florer-Bixler
Monday, October 9, 2017

"Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground." 

—John 8:1-11 

Jesus' actions here are peculiar and unsettling. He has been asked a direct question, but refuses to answer. We know from the rest of the Gospels that it isn't because of his ignorance on questions of the law. It isn’t because he lacks the intellectual capacity to spar with the intellect of the scribes and Pharisees. While on other occasions Jesus matches wits with teachers of the law, here the stakes are high. A woman is about to be stoned by men who are hurling verbal insults and rocks. This is the focus of Jesus' concern. 

At first, it's difficult to see if there is a good option for Jesus' response. He can either confront the scribes and Pharisees, defending the woman, and opening up the possibility of them turning on Jesus; or he can simply say there is nothing he can do and walk away. When we witness acts of harassment and violence, it can seem like we have similar limiting choices. We can choose to ignore it and tell ourselves that it doesn't concern us, or we can respond to what we see. But sometimes, the direct approach doesn't feel safe and we don't feel comfortable using it. 

Here in this portion of the Gospel of John, Jesus gives us another option. Jesus distracts everyone by dropping to the ground and writing in the dirt. He chooses to enter the situation on his own terms and changes the subject. The focus is no longer on the men surrounding the woman. Jesus' actions are confusing and defy the expected responses. He defuses the situation without directly addressing it. The conversation changes and the woman is protected because Jesus changes the topic. The distract technique changes the focus and begins to build safe space for the victim. 

If you witness a situation of harassment and you are uncomfortable responding directly to the harasser, or you determine that direct response is unwise or unsafe, utilize this method to protect a victim, de-escalate a situation, and show solidarity. 

1. Engage in a conversation. Approach the person being harassed and start up a conversation. If possible, position your body between the attacker and the victim. Do not acknowledge the attacker. Once an attacker realizes that they have no power in the situation, they will retreat. 

  • Some ways you might do this are by asking the victim for directions or if they know where a landmark is, telling them they look familiar and asking if you know them, asking them if they think it will rain/snow today, complimenting an item of clothing they have on, etc. 

2. If you want, you can explain to the victim that you will stay nearby and continue talking until the attacker leaves and the space is safe again. 

3. Continue to build the safe space, engaging until the attacker backs down or leaves. 

4. If it is possible for the person to leave the vicinity of the attacker, try and help get them away. Some ways to do this are to invite the person to trade places with you, or to help you with a task. You can tell them that you need to share something with them in another space. This will give an excuse for the person to leave the situation if they choose. 

5. Ask the victim if they are all right. Offer to accompany them to their destination. Offer your contact information if the person chooses to report the interaction. 

Small-group discussion 

1. Can you see yourself using the distract method of intervening? 

2. What challenges do you imagine to using this "D?" What are some ways those might be addressed? 

3. How does this skill feel different from direct









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