Being an active bystander 

Being an active bystander, is just that – doing something when you witness an incident that you know is not right, such as bullying, harassment, racism, hate, sexual harassment and assaults, relationship abuse, or any other unacceptable behaviour. There is always something you can do as a bystander, let’s find out more. 
So how can you change from simply witnessing a situation to being someone who intervenes in a positive way? Follow the guidance below and start to become an active bystander. 

Call It Out! Be an Active Bystander Workshop 

Do you want to be able to call it out and intervene? Take the Call It Out! bystander workshop to feel confident next time you see a situation that does not feel right to you. Check out the Education and Training page for more details. 

Online Bystander Module

Being an active bystander is something that everyone of us can do to help build a campus of inclusive safety to all those who are part of our diverse community. This short 20 minute module will give you the basics of being an active bystander and will show you the impact you can make.
Find the Bystander Course here.

How to become an active bystander

Being an active bystander involves paying attention to your surroundings, noticing when somebody’s behaviour is problematic, or threatening. An active bystander takes action by choosing to step in and intervene in such situations.

Findings show that that bystander intervention can be effective at preventing assault from happening. By taking strategic action, you can help prevent sexual, racial or homophobic harassment.

Simple steps to becoming an active bystander: 
  1. Notice the situation 
  2. Interpret it as a problem 
  3. Feel responsible to act 
  4. Think about intersectionality - different people are vulnerable in different situations
  5. Possess necessary skills to act - the 5Ds of bystander intervention
Always remember, it is important that you only intervene if it is safe for you to do so.

 How you can intervene safely: 
  • Tell another person - being with others is a good idea when a situation could be unsafe.
  • Ask the victim if he/she is okay before getting further involved - provide options and a listening ear.
  • Ask the person if he/she wants to leave with you - make sure that he/she gets home safely.
The Bystander Effect 
“The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation, against a bully, or during an assault or other crime. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to a person in distress.” (Psychology Today)  

It is important to be aware of the bystander effect and the best way to overcome this is to talk with others and get others involved. The more bystanders we have active, the bigger change we can all make.   

The 5Ds of bystander intervention

Distraction  |  Direct Action  |  Delegation  |  Delay  |  Document

To be an active bystander use the 5D approach to help you get involved, make a quick plan on how to approach the situation, and make a measured decision on what you are going to do. We are not looking for people to step into every situation, but stepping up when and where you can. There are many ways to intervene - bystander intervention does not have to be direct or loud. 


Interrupt the behaviour of the harasser.

Distraction can often be more than enough to handle an awkward moment or de-escalate a situation by redirecting the situation. It can be very effective to change the outcome of the situation without getting yourself directly involved. 
How to do it… 
Engage directly with the person who is being targeted and talk to them, ask them something or just get in the way. Ignore the harasser and don’t talk about or refer to the harassment happening. Instead, here are some examples of what you can do. 
  • Ask for the time or directions 
  • Talk to the victim about something completely unrelated. Ask directions, start a conversation, or pretend you know them.
  • Pretend you know the person being harassed and talk to them to the take attention off of the harasser. 
  • Get in the way. Continue what you were doing, but get between the harasser and the target.
  • Make a commotion. Accidentally-on-purpose spill your coffee or the change in your wallet.

> Check out this comic strip showing how a bystander can intervene when witnessing Islamophobic harassment.
'What to do if you are witnessing Islamophobic harassment' By Marie-Shirine Yener.

Direct Action 

Name what is happening and condemn the harassers actions.

If you choose to take direct action, assess your safety and the situation first, then if safe, speak up and confront the harassment and/or harasser. This tactic can be risky, as the harasser may redirect their abuse towards you or it could escalate the situation. 
How to do it… 
First, before you decide to respond directly, assess the situation. 
  • Are you physically safe? 
  • Is the person being harassed physically safe? 
  • Does it seem unlikely that the situation will escalate? 
  • Can you tell if the person being harassed wants someone to speak up? 
  • Is there anyone else who can join you to intervene.
Next you need to take action and speak to the person who is doing the harassing.
  • Keep it short and concise.
  • State what is happening.
  • Condemn what they are doing.
  • Do not be aggressive or threatening, but stay calm and in control.
  • Address the behaviour not the labelling of the harasser. For example say "what you said is racist" or "that is racism," not "you are a racist")
  • Do not engage in dialogue, debate, or an argument, this is how situations escalate.
Here are some examples you can say to the harasser. 
  • “That’s inappropriate, disrespectful, not okay, not cool, etc.”
  • “Leave them alone.”
  • “That’s sexual harassment, racist, homophobic (insert type of harassment), etc.”
  • "That's is too far" or "you went too far"... "that is racist, a hate crime, sexual assault/harassment (insert behaviour), etc."
Then finally, turn your attention towards the person being targeted. If the harasser responds to what you said, do not engage with them, just turn your attention to the person who was targeted. 
  • Get them somewhere safe and away from the situation and away from the harasser.
  • Ask if they are OK and if you can do anything to help.
  • You can offer to help if they want to report it now or later, or if they what you to call the police.
  • Offer any practical support you can give such as ordering a taxi, walking them to where they were going or to a safe place, call someone for them, etc.

* A note about safety:
Direct intervention can be risky, so use this one with caution. We do not ever want you to put yourself in danger or get hurt trying to help someone out. Always think about safety and consider options that are safe.     


Get assistance to intervene.

Find someone else who can help. It can be that simple to make a positive impact. Especially when you do not feel you are able to get more directly involved.  

How to do it…
  • Find someone in the position of authority such as the manager, security guard, bar tender, staff member at UEA, bus driver, or a transit employee and ask them to intervene. 
  • On campus contact campus security, the nearest staff member, or go to the front desk of a university building.
  • Get your friend to help you. Have them use one of the methods of Distraction to communicate with the person being harassed while you find someone to delegate to.
  • Speak to someone else you who notices what’s happening and who might be in a better position to intervene.
  • Call 999 if it is safe and it is an emergency (or 101 if it is not an emergency) to get the police. 
IMPORTANT Before contacting 999, use Distract to check with the person being targeted to make sure they want the police involved. Some people may not be comfortable or safe to get the police involved.   


Follow up and support the person being targeted after the incident.

If you can’t do anything while the situation is happening, you can still make a difference by checking in on the person who has been harassed. Whether the incident happened quickly or took time to finish, sometimes you cannot do the other 3 Ds, but you can still actively use the Delayed tactic. 

How to do it… 
  • Ask them if they’re ok and tell them you’re sorry that happened to them. 
  • Ask them if there’s any way you can support them. 
  • Offer to accompany them to their destination or sit with them for awhile. 
  • Share resources with them and offer to help them make a report if they want to. 
  • If you’ve taken pictures or a video, ask them if they want you to send it to them.   
In an emergency, call the police on 999. And remember, never put yourself in danger. Only intervene if safe to do so. 


Record the incident and give it to the person being harassed.

First asses the situation. Is someone helping the person being harassed? If not try to use one of the other 5Ds. If someone is helping, assess if it is safe to record. Think about your safety and the safety of those involved in the situation. 
Always ask the person who was harassed what they want you to do with the recording. NEVER POST IT ONLINE without their permission. There are several reasons for this:
  • Being harassed or violated is already a disempowering experience. Using an image or footage of a person being victimised without that person’s consent can make the person feel even more powerless. 
  • If the documentation goes viral, it can lead to further victimisation and a level of exposure that the person did not consent to.
  • Posting footage without a victim’s consent makes their experience public – something that can lead to a whole host of legal issues, especially if the act of harassment or violence was in some way criminal. They may be forced to engage with the legal system in a way that they are not comfortable with. 
  • Lastly, the experience could have been traumatic. Publicising another person’s traumatic experience without their consent is no way to be an effective and helpful bystander.


There are two ways you can tell us what happened