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How to be an Active Bystander

How can I intervene safely? The 5 D's

  1. Distract

  2. Delegate

  3. Document

  4. Delay

  5. Direct


Subtly derail the situation without people knowing that you are purposefully intervening.


Remember to

  1. Engage directly with the person who is being harassed.

  2. Do not talk about what was happening.


You could...

  • Pretend to know the person.

    • "I haven't seen you in forever! How have you been?"

  • Accidentally spill or drop something to cause a commotion.

    • "Oh no! My coffee! Did it get onto your shoes?"

  • Ask the person being harassed for directions.

    • "I am so lost! Do you know where the pharmacy is?"

  • Bring out fresh food or drinks, including for the person you are concerned about

    • "Hi! Would you like a slice of pizza?"

  • Start an activity that draws other people in, like a game.

    • "Do you guys want to play cards?"

  • Make up something urgent.

    • "Someone's on the phone and they want to talk to you."


Ask someone else to help intervene.


Remember to:

  1. Look for someone who is ready and willing to help (hint: look beside you!)

  2. As clearly as you can, tell that person what you're witnessing and how you'd like them to help

  3. Do not contact the police unless the person at risk has explicitly asked you to call the police on their behalf 


You can check if anyone else around you agrees.

  • "I can't be the only one who thinks this is not okay."

  • "Are you hearing what I'm hearing?"

You can enlist the help of trusted people. 

  • "I think that person in the blue jacket is making Alex uncomfortable. Can you help me? Can you go over there and distract that person, while I go check on Alex?"

  • "Your friend looks like they've had a lot to drink. Can you check on them?"


You can ask a person with authority, e.g. an event organiser, professor, supervisor, bouncer, bus driver, store owner to help intervene.

  • "Hi, you're one of the event organisers right? Someone is being harassed at the bar. Can you please help?"


Only document if someone else is already intervening in another way. Recording someone’s experience of harm without ensuring they’re already receiving help can make things more traumatic and disempowering. 


You could:

  • Record on your phone

  • Take a photo

  • Write notes


Afterwards, ALWAYS ask the person who experienced harm what they would like to do with the documentation. NEVER post or share a video, photo or information without the consent of the person being harmed.


If you can't act at that exact moment, you can reduce a person's trauma by checking in with them later, when the person doing harm is not around or listening.

  • "Hey, I overheard your conversation / saw what happened…" 

  • "Would you like me to stay with you?"

  • "Shall I walk with you?"

  • "Would you like to find somewhere safer?"

  • "Do you want help making a report?"

  • "I took a video of what happened, do you want me to send it to you?"

  • "Is there anything I can do to help?


Talk to the person doing harm in a direct, honest way. Be firm and clear. Keep things short and avoid engaging in debate.


  • "You need to stop."

  • "Leave them alone."

  • "They've asked you to leave them alone."

  • "I'm sorry to interrupt, but what's going on here isn't okay. You should go."


This method can be risky, so assess safety first.

How can I assess safety?

Are there risks to myself or others?

  • Is there a threat of violence?

  • Am I outnumbered?

  • Would there be retaliation against the person at risk?

  • Recognise your privilege. Your authority, age, race, gender, physical size, etc. may make it safer for you to speak up compared to others.


How could I reduce risks?

  • Can we move to a safer place?

  • Can I keep space between me and the person doing harm?

  • Can I approach the person doing harm from the side, not behind or to their face?

  • Is someone else better placed to respond?

  • Is there more information I can get to better assess the situation?

  • Should I react now or later?

Authors: Nicola Sharp

Adapted from Right To Be bystander training

Created: 11 July 2022

Last updated: 19 December 2022

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