Bystander intervention is being able to recognise a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome. We all see events unfold around us everyday. When we see someone in danger, however, we may decide to do or say something, making us an active bystander. By intervening we let the perpetrator know that their behaviour is unacceptable. If we each reinforce the message that certain behaviours are not acceptable in our community, we can make a real change in what is considered acceptable and put a stop to problem behaviour.
Bystander intervention is an essential skill that allows you to recognise when someone is in danger and ways in which you can safely intervene. Safe interventions could be a disapproving look, interrupting or distracting someone, not laughing at a sexist joke, talking to a friend about their behaviour in a non-confrontational way. Other times, it means asking for help.
How to safely intervene
When it comes to intervening safely, remember the four Ds – direct, distract, delegate, delay. Use the links below to learn more.
Remember, never put yourself in danger. Only intervene if safe to do so. In an emergency, call the police on 999.
Call out negative behaviour, tell the person to stop or ask the victim if they are OK. If possible do this as a group, to provide extra support to you. Be polite and remain calm so as not to aggravate the situation, and state why something has offended you. Don't exaggerate what you saw, stick to exactly what has happened.
Interrupt the perpetrator by starting a conversation with them to allow their potential target to move away or have friends intervene. You could come up with an idea to get the victim out of the situation – tell them they need to take a call, or you need to speak to them; pretending that you know them can help to get them away to safety. Distracting or redirecting the situation could be used as an alternative action.
You may be too embarrassed or unsure of how to speak out, or you might not feel safe to do so. If this is the case, get someone else to step in. If you are in a venue when you witness an incident, speak to a member of staff, and they will act, as most venues have a zero tolerance policy on harassment. If you are in public when you witness an incident, try to engage other passersby, nearby shop/club staff to intervene.
There may be an occassion where the situation is too dangerous to challenge there and then, such as there is the threat of violence or you are outnumbered. In these circumstances it is best to walk away, and seek professional intervention from the Police, when it is safe to do so. It's never too late to act.