Bells on Bobtails Ring: Sexual Harassment Warning Signs During Holiday Festivities

By Mavia HansonDecember 29, 2022

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Bells on bobtails ring, making spirits bright” is a famous line in the classic holiday song "Jingle Bells." Bells on bobtails refers to an old-fashioned alarm system for sleighs. In places where people traveled by sleigh, snowbanks would pile up and restrict visibility. So, to prevent collisions, sleigh drivers placed bells on horses’ tails (bobtails) to alert pedestrians and sleighs that another sleigh was nearby.

Let’s reflect on our own "alert systems" when celebrating the holidays with friends and family. This time of year, many people attend large holiday gatherings with peers they don’t often see or peers who don’t usually consume alcohol. These events can lead to excessive alcohol consumption and questionable or undesirable behaviors.

According to Chad Stiles, the sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) for the DC Army National Guard, it’s likely there will be an increase in reported sexual harassment and sexual assaults at larger gatherings, and not just during the holiday season. Stiles says, “Based on my experience, the influx in incidents and reporting are usually attributed to the presence of alcohol at these functions and the culture and climate within the hosting organization.”

You can set your alert system to help prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault by knowing the warning signs and recognizing intervention opportunities:

• Inappropriate or lewd comments made to you or around you

• Repeated unwanted requests for sexual favors or dates from peers or leaders

• Jokes about sex or slurs (remarks that may shame or insult) based on gender or sexuality (e.g., “all women are,” “bisexual people are...”)

• Unwanted emails, texts, messages, videos or photos of a sexual nature

• Gossip about someone’s relationships or sex life

• Unwanted touching, massaging, kissing or hugging

• Staring, leering or making gestures of a sexual nature

• Blocking someone’s way or their movement, especially in a physically threatening or intimidating way

• Indecent exposure such as flashing or mooning

Stiles also recommends that commanders encourage a culture of consent and safety. His advice is, “Use correct DOD terminology when having a SHARP conversation, and be actively involved. Command and leadership playing an active role and leading those discussions is paramount in guiding a culture of safety, consent and inclusivity within their unit.”

For service members who want to encourage a culture of consent and safety, Stiles suggests, “Be the leader you want for yourself. If you see something abnormal and it’s safe to do so, intervene. Speak to them about how their harassment was wrong. If you are witnessing sexual assault, make sure the immediate needs of the victim are met and call for help. If appropriate, calling 911 is an option.”

If you or someone you know needs to report sexual harassment or sexual assault, you can contact the SARC or VA or call the DOD Safe Helpline 24/7 at 877-995-5247. Anyone can call the helpline, not just service members. There is also a website and an app with a chat feature you can use.

For more information about ARD’s sexual harassment and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, visit https://