Chapter 3 - Situations Subchapter: Being an active bystander

How to step in

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

Shouting, aggressive or violent behaviour is easy to detect as a problem, but other forms of disrespectful behaviour, like pestering and unwelcome touching, can be more difficult to recognise as unwanted.

Sometimes behaviour might not seem obviously wrong, but it also might not seem quite right—creepy or pushy or even just overly-friendly. Trust your instinct and try and get more information.


A three-panel image; left panel says 'Step 1: Check in' and has an emoji of a handshake shaped like a love-heart. Middle panel says, 'Step 2: Challenge or disrupt' and has an emoji of an uprising fist. Right panel says, 'Step 3: Recruit' and shows two characters high-fiving.


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: What are you seeing? How does it feel? What’s your gut telling you? If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right.
  • Check in with other bystanders: Are they seeing what you’re seeing? Do they have the same gut reaction? Do they think it needs action?
  • Check in with the victim: What does the victim say? Do they want your help?

You can do any or all of these.


Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a good chance it’s not right. If you feel like you should do something, then you probably should.


A new year party scene where a bystander is witnessing a character try to sneakily drag away a very drunk character. The perpetrator realises they have been seen and looks startled and red-faced. The bystander is holding a smartphone.


Always be mindful of your own safety. If the situation is dangerous, don’t try to step in by yourself. Go straight to recruiting support from other people.


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. What’s the safest and most effective way to stop the disrespectful behaviour, harassment or abuse?

One way is to disrupt the person who is moving the line is to distract or divert them.

  • Oh hey! I’ve been looking for you everywhere!
  • Look there’s a pool table, want to have a game?

Distracting or diverting is a safer way of challenging disrespectful behaviour. If the perpetrator is surprised by being interrupted, it can give the target time to move away.

You can also confront the perpetrator directly.

  • Hey, leave her alone!
  • I don’t think she wants you that close.
  • Back off or I’m calling the police.

Confrontation can escalate the situation. It might make the perpetrator more determined in their attention to their target or might make you the new target.

When directly challenging the behaviour, it’s best to use ‘I’ statements. This focusses the conversation on your feelings about the situation rather than criticising the perpetrator and risk the situation escalating.

  •  I feel uncomfortable when I hear this sort of talk
  • I feel uncomfortable with the vibe here
  • I think we should all pause and take a deep breath
  • I wonder how your girlfriend would feel about this?

If you speak up, avoid direct insults and blame. Use ‘I’ statements, share your own feelings, or subtly use humour. Or, you can simply address the victim only. The goal is to disrupt the behaviour.

Another option is to use body language to show your disapproval and to communicate that the person’s behaviour is unacceptable. Sometimes a disapproving look can be less confrontational and more effective than words.


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.


A new year party scene, three bystanders are witnessing a character try to sneakily drag away a very drunk character. Two of the bystanders look angry and one looks worried. The perpetrator has a red face and is looking nervous.


Getting help from someone who might be more capable of intervening safely and effectively can be a great way to positively impact the situation. It isn’t about passing the buck; it is about identifying who is best suited to intervene.

  • You can ask them to step in for you.
  • You can ask them to physically be around you while you step in. Having extra bodies and eyeballs can be the most effective form of influence.
  • They can help you split the attention of the target and the perpetrator so you can distract and divert them separately.
  • They can keep an eye on the situation while you go get more help, or the other way around.



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.