Bystander approaches — when you're a witness to, or know about, an assault
If you know or see someone who is experiencing unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour, read on to find out how to be a helpful bystander.
Who is a bystander?
A bystander is someone who sees or knows about unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour that is happening to someone else.
Bystanders can be either part of the problem or part of the solution.
Bystanders act in different ways when they see or know about unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour.
'Hurtful' bystanders are those who:
- Take the side of the person who is responsible for the unwanted behaviour by
- laughing at the victim
- encouraging the unwanted behaviour or by passing on harmful text messages or messages on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube.
- Give silent approval or encourage the person responsible for the behaviour by looking on
- Watch or know about the behaviour but don’t do anything. They may not know what to do or are scared, or are still making sense of what they are witnessing. They might know it’s not okay, but are unsure what to do.
'Helpful' bystanders are supportive and take safe action to stop the unwanted behaviour, and to find help or support for the person affected.
A 'helpful' bystander may use words and/or actions that can help someone who is being subjected to unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour.
If bystanders are confident to take safe and effective action to support victims, then there is a greater possibility the unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour can stop and the person who is experiencing the behaviour can get help.
People respect those who stand up for others, but being a helpful bystander can be tough. Sometimes it is not easy to work out how to help safely because unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour happens in different ways and places, such as online, at work or whilst studying.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being a helpful bystander. For helpful bystanders to take safe and effective action here are some suggestions:
Approaches to being a helpful bystander
Always make sure that you are safe when being a helpful bystander.
The ethical bystander model (Carmody, 2009) suggests questions you can ask and important factors to consider:
Before you take action
Am I aware there is a problem or risky situation?
Do I recognise someone needs help?
Do I see others and myself as part of the solution?
During the situation
How can I keep myself safe?
What are my available options? Are there others I may call upon for help?
What are the benefits/costs of taking action?
When you're deciding to take action
Make it clear to your friends you won’t be involved in unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour.
Do not encourage encourage unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour.
Do not harass, tease or spread gossip about others . Don’t contribute to gossip or rumour mongering about others. This includes on social networking sites like Facebook.
Never forward on or respond to messages or photos that may be offensive or upsetting.
Support the person who is experiencing unwanted, threatening or inappropriate behaviour to ask for help e.g. go with them to a place they can get help or provide them with information about where to go for help.
Report it to someone in authority or someone you trust.