What can you do?

Being an active bystander

We can all play a role in creating an environment that is safe and supportive and in challenging and changing negative attitudes within our communities.

Safety: We don’t ever want you to get hurt trying to help someone out.  If you feel anyone's safety is at risk seek help from Security on campus, or Doorsafe or the Police otherwise.  Always think about safety and consider possibilities that are unlikely to put you or anyone else in harm’s way.  This information is designed to equip you with practical information on how to be an active bystander and some of the strategies that you could consider using if you feel safe and comfortable.


THE FIVE D’S - Direct, Distract, Delegate, Delay, Document.

You can make a choice to actively and visibly take a stand against harassment. The Five D’s are different methods you can use to support someone who’s being harassed, emphasize that harassment is not okay, and demonstrate to people in your life that they too have the power to make the community safer.


You may want to directly respond to harassment by naming what is happening or confronting the harasser. This tactic can be risky: the harasser may redirect their abuse towards you and may escalate the situation. Before you decide to respond directly, assess the situation: Are you physically safe? Is the person being harassed physically safe? Does it seem unlikely that the situation will escalate? Can you tell if the person being harassed wants someone to speak up? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you might choose a direct response.

If you choose to directly intervene, some things you can say to the harasser are:

  • “That’s inappropriate, disrespectful, not okay, etc.”

  • “Leave them alone.”

  • “That’s homophobic, racist, (insert type of harassment), etc.”

The most important thing here is to keep it short and succinct. Try not engage in dialogue, debate, or an argument, since this is how situations can escalate. If the harasser responds, try your best to assist the person who was targeted instead of engaging with the harasser.

Direct intervention can be risky, so use this one with caution.


Distraction is a subtler and more creative way to intervene. The aim here is simply to derail the incident by interrupting it. The idea is to ignore the harasser and engage directly with the person who is being targeted. Don’t talk about or refer to the harassment. Instead, talk about something completely unrelated. You can try the following:

Of course, read the situation and choose your distract method accordingly. The person who is being targeted will likely catch on, and hopefully your act or statement will de-escalate the situation.


Delegation is when you ask for assistance, for a resource, or for help from a third party.  Here are examples of what you can do:

  • Find a staff member where you are, bus driver, or a transit employee and ask them to intervene.

  • On campus, contact campus security/use the safezone app to alert them or someone at the front desk of a university building. If you’re near a school, contact a teacher or someone at the front desk.

  • Get your friend/s on board and have them use one of the methods of distraction (eg. asking for the time, directions, or striking up a conversation unrelated to the harassment) to communicate with the person being harassed while you find someone to delegate to.

  • Speak to someone near you who notices what’s happening and might be in a better position to intervene. Work together.

  • Call 101 or 999 (if it is safe) to request help. Before contacting 999, use distract to check in with the person being targeted to make sure they want you to do this. Some people may not be comfortable or safe with the intervention of the police. For many people and communities, a history of being mistreated by law enforcement has led to fear and mistrust of police interventions, and under the current climate, there are many communities who may feel less safe in the hands of police. In certain situations, you may not be able to get to the person in which case, depending on the situation, you will need to use your best judgement.


Even if you can’t act in the moment, you can make a difference for the person who has been harassed by checking in on them afterwards. Many types of harassment happen in passing or very quickly, in which case you can wait until the situation is over and speak to the person who was targeted then. Here are some ways to actively use the tactic of delay:

  • Ask them if they’re okay and tell them you’re sorry that happened to them.

  • Ask them if there’s any way you can support them.

  • Offer to accompany them to their destination or sit with them for awhile.

  • Share resources with them and offer to help them make a report if they want to.

  • If you’ve documented the incident, ask them if they want you to send it to them.


It can be really helpful to record an incident as it happens to someone, but there are a number of things to keep in mind to safely and responsibly document harassment.

  1. First, assess the situation. Is anyone helping the person being harassed? If not, use one of the other four D’s.

  2. If someone else is already helping out, assess your own safety. If you are safe, go ahead and start recording. A few tips:

    • Make sure to keep a safe distance.

    • Film landmarks (e.g. a street sign or subway platform sign or car number).

    • Clearly state the date and time that you are filming.

    • Hold the camera steady and hold important shots for at least 10 seconds.

  3. Most importantly, ALWAYS ask the person who was harassed what they want to do with the recording. NEVER post it online or use it without their permission. There are several reasons for this.

    • Being harassed or violated is already a disempowering experience. Using an image or footage of a person being  victimized without that person’s consent can make the person feel even more powerless.

    • If the documentation goes viral, it can lead to further victimization and a level of visibility that the person may not want.

    • Also, posting footage without a victim’s consent makes their experience public – something that can lead to a whole host of legal issues, especially if the act of harassment or violence was in some way criminal.

    • They may be forced to engage with the legal system in a way that they are not comfortable with.

    • Lastly, the experience could have been traumatic. Publicizing another person’s traumatic experience without their consent is no way to be an effective and helpful bystander

If all else fails, remember to SPEAK:

Straight away: if you can address the situation straight away without putting yourself at risk, then act now.

Polite: Don’t aggravate the situation - think about your tone of voice, body language and how you address people. Remain calm and state why something is inappropriate or offensive.

Evidence: Stick to exactly what has happened, don’t exaggerate.

Avoid confrontation: If the situation is too dangerous to challenge then and there (such as there is the threat of violence or you are outnumbered) just walk away.

Know who to speak to: There is always someone who can help. In the first instance you should always speak to someone you trust, but there also many different support mechanisms which you can see here.