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Xenophobia is a longstanding problem in American society. In the history of xenophobia and scapegoating, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was repealed in 1943, was the only act targeting a particular ethnic group. Now, we are seeing a repetition of history in the COVID-19 pandemic. The rhetoric from the US federal administration and from social media are both influencing the public’s perspective and exacerbating anti-Asian harassment. 

The rise in anti-Asian harassment has included both verbal abuse and physical assaults during this pandemic. To address this, on July 16th, we held our second session of our “Combating Anti-Asian Harrassment” series focusing on de-escalation and defense strategies that should be used to protect against anti-Asian violence. We were joined by guest speakers Flora Ferng from the Commission on Human Rights and Grey Cohen from Pop Gym. They shared their suggestions on de-escalating strategies and also practical tips for protecting ourselves from violence. 

Key highlights


In the world that we live in, violence can be nearly inevitable, and we should be fully prepared for it, if and when, it occurs by learning how to protect ourselves. During this COVID-19 pandemic, anyone could be a potential victim and that’s why it is important to know what we can do as a victim

“3F” for the victim describe the three main ways we respond to violence, which includes:

  • Freeze: stay still and ignore the assaulters.
  • Flee: leave the place and assaulters immediately
  • Fight: fight against the assaulters when appropriate

According to the “3F”, victims’ reactions toward harassment can vary. It is helpful to be prepared and informed beforehand to take appropriate action when dealing with a difficult situation if one were to arise. Flora Ferng from the Commission on Human Rights, suggests the following methods for conflict mitigation and self protection. 

These verbal de-escalation strategies can be applied in situations where the harassment is limited to verbal actions by the perpetrator:

  • Say “No” to let the assaulter know his/her behaviors are not right. 
  • Repeat words. A repetition of words can be used to condemn or resist an abuser
  • Point out the wrong behaviors.
  • Use “I” or “we” to induce empathy. Avoid using “you” to irritate the assaulters 
  • Interrupt the words or actions from the assaulters
  • Ignore the behaviors and talk to others like a friend.
  • Lower your voice to mitigate the intensity.
  • Do not argue or educate the assaulters, you can report it later when you have the documents and recordings. 

Calling-In Strategies

Calling-in strategies require that we provide accurate information about coronavirus to people around us and ask those who are racist to stop. For example, if there is a racist post online, a DM can be sent to the account holder, asking them to take the post down. 

Sometimes harassment occurs in a familiar environment, like schools and workplaces. You can share scientific facts about the virus with people around. There are also other forms of support, like mutual connections, moveable connections, community support, friends, family, organizations, and government. 

Practical skills for self-defense

For some situations, harassment is not only limited to verbal abuse. Unfortunately, physical harassment has increased during this pandemic and an additional strategy to respond to this type of harassment is self-defense.

Martial arts is a form of self-defense. However, we can practice self-defense even if we are unfamiliar with martial arts. Experience and skills are what we need to protect ourselves. Awareness is the best form of self-defense. We should keep ourselves busy and alert to know who is around us instead of obsessing over our smartphones. In an emergency, you can always use a loud voice or throw something around you to the assaulter.

When verbal and calling in strategies do not work, we need to  know how to protect ourselves and fend off the assaulters.  To avoid injuries the following practical skills suggested by Grey Cohen can be applied, regardless of our familiarity with martial arts:

  • Do not get close to the assaulters, we should only take actions when they are in our  “green zone” (an arm’s length from your body). And when we decide to fight back we do our best. 
  • Secondly, a punch should not be random. We need to take a little breath and use the whole body to make the strike more powerful. Using the voice to release the energy and remember to avoid ground actions. It is more flexible when we keep standing with balance. 
  • Do not use the fist because it is easy to break our bones if we do not punch correctly. We should use palm heels to hit the nose, mouth, chest or stomach. And use the whole body to give more power and speed. 

Different cases call for different strategies, but in general we need to make time to get out of the situation. It is important to remember to take the actions you feel most comfortable with to mitigate the situation. 


Although being informed and prepared as a victim is crucial, when violence occurs, it is not just about the perpetrator or the victim. Bystanders also play a significant role in the occurrence and handling of violent events. What can we do as a bystander when harassment happens right in front of us?

When witnessing  harassment, we may want to help and show support to the victim, however, it is also important for us to protect ourselves from potentially dangerous situations. The Human Rights specialist recommends the following tips before intervening in the situation in front of you:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and keep yourself safe.
  • Pay attention to access to the fire exit/door/passage.
  • Check if there is anyone else around or anyone who can help.
  • Does the assaulter seem out of control? Pay attention to the symptoms.
  • Notice the location that you, the assaulter and the victim are in.

Once we assess the situation, we can take appropriate action. The“5D” are the 5 main methods a bystander can use to help or show support to the victim as well as mitigate the intense situation. “5D” includes: 

  • Direct: Taking direct actions to stop the violence is the most effective way, but it can be dangerous sometimes.
  • Delegate: Convey direct messages to people around like “ call 911”. Let people know you are seeking help.
  • Distract: Distracting the assaulter by making noise to avoid the intense situation or asking “Do I know you?” to let them know they can be recognized. You can also chat with others to avoid interaction with the assaulter.
  • Delay: Provide documents or records to the victim or stay there as a witness.
  • Document: Record the situation and provide the records to the police. But this may worsen the situation and cannot mitigate the situation.