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These questions don't seem like they are a good fit for the site, as the only valid answer is to call the authorities. There are no interpersonal skills involved in that.

Should they be closed as off-topic?

Example: How to deal with unwanted attention at the swimming pool?

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    Hmm. After reading your answer there, this question makes a lot less sense. – apaul Nov 2 '17 at 1:23
  • Note that people asking here might think that there's an alternative to calling the authorities. They want to solve the problem by themselves (which can only be done by asking for help, which is not so obvious in their eyes). Sometimes I'm guilty of this, too! – Vylix Nov 2 '17 at 7:11
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    Someone is asking for help dealing with a situation that could by no stretch of the imagination escalate into considerable physical harm to them and you are suggesting we close the door on them tell them they have the wrong website. Nice. – RyanfaeScotland Nov 2 '17 at 18:38
  • OP's answer on the original thread interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/6101/8246 – GISKid Nov 2 '17 at 19:31
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A problem whose solution needs the intervention of official authorities comes under the umbrella of 'requires professional help' which is not just about mental health issues needing psychological expertise. 'Needs professional help' is understood to be one of the reasons for closing a question as off topic on Interpersonal.SE, as demonstrated by broad community consensus on a number of related meta questions, most of which are linked within my most recent meta post on the subject. However, Stack Exchange experts have recommended that we should be sure we can offer no interpersonal solutions, before closing such questions as off-topic.


In response to your valid point in comments about off-topic answers...

if the only other content in an answer besides "seek professional help" is different ways to go about doing so, then the answer should be flagged off topic. – Physics-Compute

...may I add that we are not supposed to write an answer telling OP only to seek professional help. If that is really the only solution then the question should be closed as off topic, preferably with a 'requires professional help' custom close message that will clearly inform OP and future readers why the question is beyond the scope of this site.

But any answer that does not try to give an interpersonal solution is also off topic here. If you see such an answer please flag it for moderator attention and mention briefly why it is an off topic answer.

Note too these earlier meta questions that discuss what to do with off topic answers:

What to do with answers that aren't related to interpersonal skills?

Can answers be off topic? - How to deal with answers that address legal issues

I also think it is time to develop a more active site policy on off topic answers, based on the above links kindly supplied by @Tinkeringbell. The long-standing typical Stack Exchange reply that 'off topic answers only need to be downvoted to the bottom of the page' seems just so passively old-fashioned in the context of non-interpersonal answers on Interpersonal.SE!

Since users can cast delete votes only on answers scoring -1 or less, maybe the moderators can agree to delete any flagged answer that is clearly off topic for IPS.SE in terms of not offering any interpersonal solution for OP.

  • Applying this to the question above, if the only other content in an answer besides "seek professional help" is different ways to go about doing so, then the answer should be flagged off topic. – user2921 Nov 4 '17 at 18:19
  • Yes indeed @Physics-Compute. We are not supposed to write an answer telling OP only to seek professional help. If that is really the only solution then the question should be closed as off topic with a 'requires professional help' custom close message. But any answer that does not try to give an interpersonal solution is also off topic here. If you see such an answer please flag it for moderator attention and mention briefly why it is an off topic answer. – English Student Nov 4 '17 at 18:32
  • Dropping the links here as well: We have a meta discussing off-topic answers and one discussing answers that address legal issues. They are good reads and relevant to this answer as well :) – Tinkeringbell Nov 4 '17 at 21:36
  • Really good set of links that takes me exactly where I want to go to read more about those topics: many thanks @Tinkeringbell! You have become a curator of meta. – English Student Nov 4 '17 at 21:38
  • I also think it is time to develop a more active site policy on off topic answers @Tinkeringbell. 'Off topic answers only need to be downvoted to the bottom of the page' is just so passively old-fashioned! Maybe the moderators can agree to delete any flagged answer that is clearly off topic for IPS.SE in terms of not offering any interpersonal solution for OP. – English Student Nov 4 '17 at 21:40
  • @EnglishStudent, I was thinking of writing a meta asking something like that today, but after what happened yesterday I think it's better to let that topic cool down just a little more... Not in the least for myself, because I got pretty heavily involved and don't want to write a rant, but a well-researched question ;-) If you think you can do it, please feel free to do so, and I can always write an answer once I feel better. – Tinkeringbell Nov 4 '17 at 21:50
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    I have now edited all those points into my answer (since the issue of off topic answers was raised by none other than OP in a comment here) and included your links, so we can see whether a moderator will offer some feedback right here @Tinkeringbell. – English Student Nov 4 '17 at 22:01
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the only valid answer is to call the authorities.

The most upvoted and accepted answer indeed states 'involve authorities'.

BUT, this is also in that answer:

Don't worry about involving the life guard, or even bystanders. As staff he will know who to call in that situation. Immediately, and loudly state:

I've told you I'm not interested, please step away, and don't touch me.

Make it public, and make it loud. This creep may very well get kicked out, or even banned from the place, and that will be his lesson - hopefully he's a quick study.

So even though, yes, the best case might be to call the authorities, here is given some advice on how to do so. And that advice is, IMO, indeed an interpersonal skill.

Take a look at this quick google definition of 'what are interpersonal skills':

the ability to communicate or interact well with other people.

Saying things out loud (shouting/screaming if necessary) is a form of communication. It's also a great way (as far as I've experienced/learned) to draw attention from bystanders, be that the lifeguard (an authority) or other swimmers (that can protect you until you reach the lifeguard).


I think the confusion here is caused by a number of things.

The original revision of the question was different from what it is now on some points:

  • It contains the word 'graped', not 'groped'. It could also have meant 'grabbed'.
  • When originally posted, the sexual assault tag wasn't added. This was added in revision nr. 4, the same revision that revised 'graped' to 'groped'. You've rightly pointed this out in the comments underneath the question since.

The title talks about unwanted attention, while in the body of the question this escalated to being called sexual harassment in the last paragraph. Still, harassment is far away from assault. After asking a mod, it was confirmed that there was a comment by the OP of the question stating that she meant to type 'grope' not 'grabbed'. This was probably why the assault tag was added when 'graped' was edited to 'groped', since the latter has a meaning of 'fondle (someone) for sexual pleasure roughly or clumsily, or without the person's consent'. We now have three different gradients of the same problem in one question.

The most upvoted answer I quoted earlier was written when the question was still stating 'graped' and wasn't tagged as sexual assault. The fact that it's accepted by the OP suggests that this was indeed the IPS solution she was looking for (something to say out loud when having to deal with this again).


The thing here is, just as with questions about marijuana use (I think we currently have several referencing person using marijuana), we can't prove the activity was illegal. Even though there is some serious evidence of this in the question (groping, somebody telling OP and the unwanted admirer to 'get a room' implies some serious things going on), we are not lawyers, nor judges.

We weren't there, and although this sounds very serious, it's only (as always) one side of the story.

If you see questions around this side that you think are so serious that they need professional help/authorities to be called in, and there is absolutely no IPS solution available, feel free to cast a close-vote as off-topic, with a custom reason explaining why you feel that this won't benefit from any IPS solution.

See the comments under this question for example.


For now, I think this question is on the borderline. I'm leaning towards leaving this open, because it gives the OP excellent advice on how to react to such interactions in the future (and also other users that may stumble across this question in HNQ).

The accepted answer shows there is an Interpersonal solution to this. Other answers, although every single one of them is mentioning 'involve authorities' give the OP some nice handlers on how to do so when there isn't a phone or cop nearby.

the only valid answer is to call the authorities. There are no interpersonal skills involved in that.

Returning back to this: I think the 'valid' answer is that indeed, there need to be authorities involved (not necessarily called, assuming you mean 'phone them' here). But how to interact/get these people involved when you are in a swimming pool, meters away from your phone? That's definitely an Interpersonal Skill in my opinion.

I know, good answers to bad questions don't make them on-topic here. But they show that even a problem as serious as this has an Interpersonal side that could be considered and that the OP could be helped with.

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  • I agree that without given sufficient information to judge that something was illegal, we should refrain from calling it illegal (particularly a specific location and specific actions). I went with the answer below because it uses an already established consensus perspective I hadn't considered - "requires professional help." The referenced question does seem on the fence because there may be some good "non-professional" help, but a majority of the answers focus on seeking professional help and different ways to do so. – user2921 Nov 4 '17 at 18:23
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    @Physics-Compute for those answers, you might consider this meta or this one. They are good reads :) – Tinkeringbell Nov 4 '17 at 21:34
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It is an interpersonal skill to stand up for yourself by involving other people. Just look at the question, they were worrying whether they should disturb the life guard for this. What's more they didn't even ask for help when a guy was right there complaining about them blocking the lane. That's clearly interpersonal.

Going to the police would be even harder than that and would probably drift away from interpersonal to legal. But if they were looking for advice about going to the police, they would have said. They said they were from a western liberal society, it must have been obvious they could involve the police. They probably decided the hassle wouldn't be worth it (not critiquing the hassle, in dubio pro reo is a cornerstone of our societies, but it's still a sad fact of life that it's hard on victims sometimes) .

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In many situations these days, people have cell phones and it's easy to call authorities.

However, in a swimming pool it is not that easy to instantly contact the authorities.

Answers could specify exactly how to contact authorities from the swimming pool, what to say, etc. Also, at which point should authorities be contacted? when he followed her to the pool? when he entered her lane? (which should just be for one person), or only after groping?

Answers could specify whether or not to contact the authorities herself, or ask the lifeguard to, or ask another person to.

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While the behavious referenced in the question is about behaviour (TL;DR: there was physical harassment) that hopefully is illegal in most of the world, a generic "illegal activity" rule can make the site more western-centric or even US-centric than wanted - as mentioned already, drug or weapons law can be very different from country to country, as can be laws regarding behaviours (insult, blasphemy, obscenity, workplace behaviours, extreme rudeness...) that will often be very relevant in "interpersonal" matters...

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Is someone placed in imminent danger by another's activity? Has a direct appeal failed to reduce the hazard presented? By all means, call the authorities.

But the idea that the state must be the arbiter of all interpersonal conflict seems to me to be creepy and authoritarian. I'm from America, which values self-sufficiency to a high degree, so take that for what its worth.

But the idea that every hallway smoker, every illegal car parker, and every user of drugs should be referred to "authorities," just because there are laws that address such behaviors, would seem to view society as a giant playground filled with tattletale children.

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