Chapter 2 - Power Subchapter: Bystander action

Taking action to step in

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


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 has an image of two people 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?


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


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 and you’ve decided to find a way to intervene. What’s the safest and most effective way to stop the disrespectful behaviour?

Challenging the behaviour directly involves naming and acknowledging the disrespectful or bullying behaviour.

When challenging the behaviour directly you are best to use “I” statements which focuses the conversation on your feelings about the situation rather than on criticising the other person. This can help to prevent the situation from escalating and also reduce the chance of the perpetrator turning on you.

  • I feel uncomfortable when I hear that sort of talk.
  • I think we should all take a step back.
  • I feel uncomfortable with the vibe here.
  • I’m not liking where this conversation is heading, can we change the topic?

You can also 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.


The scene of the bystander walking their dog, this time the bystander is red-faced, angry, and threatening the perpetrators.


Disrupting the behaviour by distracting or interrupting allows you to do something about a situation, without having to become physically involved.

  • Redirect the perpetrator’s focus onto a different conversation or topic by asking them a question or showing them something on your phone.
  • Distract the perpetrator to allow the target to move away and leave the situation.
  • Show your support for the target by asking them “are you ok?”


If the perpetrator is someone you know you could have a follow up conversation with them after the incident. If no-one is in danger of physical harm, it may be less confronting, and more effective, to have a private conversation afterwards.

Ask them why they spoke or behaved disrespectfully. It can help get them to re-assess their behaviour by getting them to think about how the other person might have felt. This might be a difficult conversation to get started so you could try:

  • YOU: We’re friends, right….?
  • Perpetrator: Yeah, sure.
  • YOU: Well, as a friend, there’s something I wanted to talk about. I’m really worried about what’s going on with you. The way you’ve been treating [target] has been pretty mean, and that’s not usually your style. You’ve always seemed pretty cool. Are you ok? Do you want to talk?


3. Recruit

Don’t think you have to be the only one to step in to stop the bullying. There are probably a few others who might feel the same way about the situation.

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 the task.

  • 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.


4. Repeat

Check in again with the target. Do they need support to get away from the situation? Is the perpetrator continuing with the disrespectful behaviour, even after you, and maybe others, stepping in?