Chapter 3 - Situations Subchapter: Being an active bystander

Being an active bystander wrap-up

A bystander is somebody who observes disrespectful behaviour. A bystander is not directly involved in the situation but is aware of it occurring. You don’t get to choose whether or not to be a bystander. If you notice disrespectful behaviour, then you are a bystander.

An active bystander is a person who observes disrespectful behaviour, knows that it is wrong, and does something to intervene.

Being an active bystander doesn’t mean putting yourself at risk by intervening in an aggressive or violent situation. You can also be an active bystander in common, everyday moments. A verbal slight or a racist or sexist joke. That’s not fair. That’s not cool.


Stepping in

Stepping in takes courage and requires you to trust your instincts about what is right and wrong in a situation.


1. Check in

Check that you are reading the situation right and if action is needed or wanted. Checking in gives you enough information about the situation to know whether or not to go to the next step or leave the situation alone.

  • Check in with yourself and how you are feeling
  • Check in with other bystanders and
  • Check in with the target.


2. Challenge or disrupt

You’ve noticed a situation that your instinct tells you is a problem, or the target is signalling there is a problem, and you’ve decided to find a way to intervene. You can:

  • Distract or divert
  • Confront
  • Use body language.


3. Recruit

Don’t think you have to be the only one to step in to stop the perpetrator. There are probably a few others who might feel the same way about the situation. You can seek help from other bystanders, security if at a bar, authorities if elsewhere, to help put a stop to the behaviour and get the target to safety.



The final step is to go back and check in with the target.

  • Are you ok?
  • Do you have any friends here?
  • Can I call someone for you?


Some disrespectful situations can be resolved without too much conflict. For other situations, like consistent episodes of harassment or abuse, it’s more complicated. There may be little you can do other than offer support until other people, including professionals or authorities, arrive. But even the smallest gesture of assistance can mean a great deal.