08/29/2012 01:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Is the Best Way for a Man to React When His Female Companion Is Sexually Harassed?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
By Phoebe Gavin, New Yorker, @ohsoordinary

Cat-calling is about control. They are not trying to get a date or take your woman. They want a reaction. Let's establish that first.

Here's what you do:

  1. Navigate away from the situation without attracting excessive attention.

    You want to walk away or leave the room or whatever you need to do to get out of the situation. But you don't want to start an altercation with anyone. That is what they want. They want to get a reaction out of you or your companion. Ignoring them gives them a small victory, but arguing with them gives them a big one.

  2. Establish that your companion is ok.

    It's probably not the first time she has experienced it, but if it is she might be jarred. Let her know that you won't let anything happen to her, and that those guys were dicks. Be patient and comforting if she is genuinely upset. Let it go if she is not. Something like "I'm really sorry that happened to you. No one deserves to be treated that way, especially not someone as [INSERT COMPLIMENT HERE] as you." is probably enough to gauge how she is taking it. Her reaction should tell you what to do next.

  3. Move on with your life.

    You are not the first or the last person that that guy is going to harass. So dwelling on what he said is not going to help you or her. Laugh it off and change the subject.

COMPLICATION: You are trapped with the catcallers.

This is a tricky situation. Most likely the catcallers will continue to harass you until it is no longer in their interests to do so. You have to decide if you are going to confront them or not. It's very possible that standing up to them assertively will get them to stop, but it's also possible that they might stab you. Assess your combat and jail-survival skills before making a decision. Always try to exit before engaging.

COMPLICATION: The catcallers have touched your companion.

Depending on your jurisdiction, it could probably be considered assault. If you need to defend her from danger, then by all means do so at any cost you are willing to incur. But if she is not in immediate danger, it is probably in your best interests to stick with #1.

COMPLICATION: Your companion is upset with you for not doing more to "defend her honor."

Remind her that this is real life. Not a movie. The catcaller has bad manners at best, but bad intentions at worst. He could have a weapon. Did she really expect you to get in a fight because he said something inappropriate? Did she really expect you to go to jail because he was a jerk? You took the most logical course of action under the circumstances, and it's unreasonable for her to expect more unless she was in real physical danger.

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