What You Can Do as a Bystander to Harassment

Confront hatred from someone by following the 5 "D's" of bystander intervention.

What do we do when we are confronted with hate? Perhaps it’s violence in our community, or maybe it’s just something offensive or inappropriate that takes place in our presence. These disruptive moments can leave us feeling powerless and confused.

So how can we actively respond when something violent is tearing at the social fabric of our network of relationships? What can we do when we witness disrespect or harassment or an attack? 

Hollaback! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending harassment, and they share interventions to de-escalate a situation or protect those being harmed. It’s good to have these strategies in mind for when disruptive expressions of hate emerge. Forming our imaginations as to what we might do in a given situation can help us respond proactively when something hateful happens in our presence.

Any one of these actions gives you power as a bystander to change the situation — think of these strategies as the five “Ds” of intervention:

Direct: Step forward in a situation directly and intervene, either physically or verbally.

Delegate: Evaluate the situation and organize others to respond.

Distract: Find a way to pull attention away from the situation, or the person being attacked. 

Delay: After the incident, check in with anyone who was affected to show them that their experience and well-being matters, and that you see and value them. 

Document: If a situation is unfolding and others are intervening already, you can record the event on your phone. Just be careful not to share the recording publicly without the consent of those who have been harmed — it might actually be best to give them the recording so they can be empowered to use it if they prefer.

Violence in our communities begins as snide remarks, disrespectful jokes or comments, and harassment. If we are to live out our calling to solidarity and mutual responsibility for one another, we have to visibly and actively stand against these expressions of hate. 

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