Bystander

Who is a bystander?

A bystander is anyone who witnesses or is present at an event. They might have the ability to influence or change how a situation works out.

Who is responsible for preventing sexual violence?

Ultimately, the rapist or perpetrator of sexual violence is always going to be the only person responsible for their behaviour.

Can we, as individuals, do anything?

Yes! Bystanders to sexual violence, domestic abuse or situations like bullying can have a huge impact. They can sometimes change the way that a situation develops or can influence the aftermath.

If I see something happen that I think is worrying, what can I do?

If you see an event that worries you, or that you think is abusive there are lots of ways to intervene. It’s important that you stay safe though – no violent situation is improved by extra violence. In certain circumstances you might want to consider:

  • Directly challenging the abusive behaviour
  • Distracting the person who is being abusive
  • Showing support for the person who is being abused or the people who are affected by the abuse
  • Refusing to participate in the abusive behaviour
  • Talking to someone in authority – in school this might be a teacher, in other settings it could be a member of staff or the police

After something has happened, you can still be an effective bystander by supporting the person who experienced the abuse, holding the abusive person responsible for their behaviour and not blaming the person who was abused.

How does this work?

Bystander intervention can be a very effective way of avoiding violence. It allows individual people who witness abusive behaviour to speak out and stand up against violence against women and girls and other forms of gender based violence. However, we think avoidance isn’t enough. Being a bystander can only start to prevent violence when we recognise that any individual’s criminal behaviour is part of a wider societal acceptance of violence. A good bystander will also challenge the problematic attitudes held by society every day and everywhere. We all have a lot of power to influence and change the values and attitudes held by our friends and peers and a good bystander will use this power to change their community’s behaviour and attitudes for the better.

Is it my business?

Lots of people think that what happens between a couple or friends is no one else’s business. Is this true? We don’t think so.

We know that sexual violence, domestic abuse and other forms of violence such as bullying happen all over the world and in every society. We believe that it is important that people who engage in abusive or violent behaviours know that their behaviour is unacceptable. It is a problem for all of us if our society is violent and if sexual violence and abuse is seen as normal. By being a good bystander we can let people know that we don’t think that their behaviour is acceptable or normal.   

What does the bystander approach look like?

We think that this video from New Zealand is a brilliant way to think about how people can safely, easily intervene to help avoid sexual violence. Check out their video below or their website.