Being an active bystander 

Imagine if there was an incident of sexual harassment or racism and everyone who was a bystander stood behind the person getting harassed. Think how different that incident would go, how the shift in power would change. This is how we all can make a positive change in our culture. 
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. 

The 4 Ds 

Distraction  |  Direct Action  |  Delegation  |  Delay

To be an active bystander use the 4D 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. 
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." ~ Lao Tzu


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. 
  • 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. 

How to become an active bystander

With the 4Ds you can see the different approaches you can take. But how can you feel confident and comfortable to become an active bystander? It’s normal to freeze, panic, or not know what to do in a difficult situation. Every situation will be different and you will need to use these 5 simple steps to become active. 

Simple steps to becoming an active bystander: 
  1. Notice the situation - Be aware of your surroundings and any possible risks or treats
  2. Interpret it as a problem - Does someone need help? Did something unacceptable happen?
  3. Feel responsible to act - See yourself as being part of the solution by helping. Feel empathy for the person being targeted. 
  4. Know what to do - Educate yourself on what to do, practice and remind yourself of the 4Ds.
  5. Intervene safely - Take action but keep yourself safe.
 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.
 All of us at UEA can change the culture on campus, by standing up for one another and never think someone else will get involved when we see something happening. We all should get involved and eradicate the hate and remember that sexual harassment and assault, relationship abuse, and all other types of harassment are never ok at UEA.   

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.   

Step Up! Be an Active Bystander Training 

Do you want to be able to Step Up and intervene? Take the Step Up! 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.


There are two ways you can tell us what happened