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Twitter Thread About 'Airplane Creeps' Sparks Conversation About Bystander Effect

A male airline passenger behaving inappropriately towards a teenage girl has sparked a conversation about how men and women act as bystanders.

Canadian journalist Joanna Chiu was recently on a late evening flight when she noticed a man aged in his late 30s behind her, who was "obviously delighted to be seated next to a teenager separated from the rest of her family".

She started tweeting about her observations.

Chiu noted the man began by laughing at the young woman's career ambitions and teasing her, then telling her he wanted to take her out to dinner.

"At this point I had to stay awake in case anything went further than that," Chiu said.

"It did, and as soon as he asked her for a 'dirty' photo while leaning close to her I turned around and rage-whispered exactly what I thought of that."

The thread started conversations about how to act on a plane. Photo: Getty

The man escaped to the plane's bathroom, and at this point another woman, who was seated behind the teenager, also jumped into action, asking the girl if she needed help.

Chiu informed flight attendants, who checked with other passengers before asking the man to move.

"He resisted then started swearing at me and asked to talk to the boss," Chui said.

"The head flight attendant said, 'I'm the boss, this is really serious and we could land the plane'."

The man moved,  and was taken aside by security when the plane landed. Chui noted he looked like he was "sweating bullets".

However, she noted that none of the male passengers sitting near the teenage girl seemed to notice 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?" she asked.

"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."

Her Twitter thread went viral, with people asking why men didn't do more to step in during predatory or uncomfortable situations.

Others shared their experiences of being harassed on public transport as a teenager and being unsure of how to keep themselves safe.

Bystanders can be "highly effective" in raising awareness of sexual harassment, a report from the Australian Human Rights Commission noted in 2012, as well as intervening to prevent harm.

"If we don’t support and encourage the targets of sexual harassment and any bystanders to take action, we run the risk of creating cultures of tolerance," noted then-sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

"It is up to organisations to provide this support and encouragement, thereby making it clear that sexual harassment has no place in our workplaces or in our society."

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au