How To Be An Active Bystander
Domestic violence occurs 24/7 in all walks of life. How can YOU help survivors near you?
What is a bystander?
A bystander is a person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part in the action. They can be people who witness violence or notices red flags but does not do anything to ease the situations.
What does it mean to be an active bystander?
In the domestic and sexual violence communities, advocates want to promote activism in bystanders. This means that for those who witness violence or notice red flags, it is important to take any form of action instead of diffusing the responsibility on others if there are multiple people present or aware. Being an active bystander does not mean to throw oneself in the middle of the action or get completely involved every time they witness violence. If a bystander wants to do something but not risk themselves getting hurt, they can still notify others, call law enforcement for additional assistance and intervention, and offering resources to the alleged victims.
Common Bystander Scenarios
What should you do in the following situations?
1. You think a friend or family member is in an abusive relationship. What do you do?
- The most important thing you can do for your friend is to listen, NOT judge.
- Demonstrate empathetic listening by believing them and responding with compassion. Be cautious of the way you speak to them. You have to earn a victimʻs respect and trust.
- Respect their decisions. Do not force your friend and other victims to do anything they are not ready to yet. If you tell a victim what to do, it might push them more into a corner and become defensive of their abuser.
- If they do not want to talk or are not ready, let them know you are there for them and will support them. Victims know their abusers best and have valid reasons for choosing to stay and hold off leaving.
- Offer resources in your town or state. Some victims may feel more comfortable speaking more openly about their situations with whom they have no prior history.
2. You hear screaming, yelling, and banging from the neighborʻs house. What do you do?
- Call 911 and report what you hear. There is no requirement to give your name or address to dispatchers.
- If you know the neighbor and can find time to talk to the possible victim privately, let them know about available resources and offer help and support.
- Offer the victim to use your phone or computer to contact resources.
3. Your employee shows up to work with visible bruises and hinted that their partner is abusing them at home. What can you do to protect that employee and other staff?
- Keep in mind that workplaces are not expected to be experts on domestic violence. However, employers and supervisors are still encouraged to offer support and guidance to local resources.
- Help the employee create a safety plan and discuss how the workplace can help provide additional safety and security, not only for the employee but the other staff as well. Discuss what reasonable accommodations can be made that do not provide a financial burden upon the workplace. Reasonable accommodations can include consulting with security staff and offering an escort around the premises; moving an employee work station around so they are not completely visible to the general public; changing an employee’s phone extension if an abuser is constantly calling the workplace; etc.
- Do NOT belittle or judge the employee. If the employee is in fact being abused at home, they are already going through a lot mentally, emotionally, and physically and the last thing they need is more judgment and control when they are at work.
4. You are with a friend and a group of colleagues or students that are nearby start making inappropriate comments and gestures about your friend. What do you do?
- Tell the group to stop their harassing behavior or ask them to imagine how they would feel if one of their loved ones were the subject of such harassment. Although this is not an example of physical violence, inappropriate sexual comments and gestures help foster environments that condone gender-based violence.
- Ask your friend if they want to leave and talk to someone.
- Notify an authority figure about the harassment and ask them to intervene
For more information on bystander intervention and ways to take action, check out the following materials and resources:
- Domestic Abuse: For Landlords (Tenant Resource Center, November 2014)
- Safe Homes, Safe Communities: A Guide for Local Leaders on Domestic Violence and Fair Housing (American Civil Liberties Union, April 2015)
- Maintaining Safe and Stable Housing for Domestic Violence Survivors: A Manual for Attorneys and Advocates (National Housing Law Project, 2012)
- Housing Rights of Domestic Violence Survivors (National Housing Law Project, 2017)
- Skip to page 82 to review Hawai’i survivors’ housing rights.
- Improving Safety and Respect in the Workplace: Training for Supervisors (Workplaces Respond to Domestic & Sexual Violence, 2018)
- Workplaces Respond (resource center for employers with various information on how to recognize, respond, and refer victims/employees)
- Partner Violence as a Workplace Issue (Personal Safety Training Group, November 2010)
- Domestic Violence: How should an employer handle when it crosses into the workplace? (LinkedIn, June 2014)
- An Employers Commitment (National Domestic Violence Hotline)
- How do we help an employee we suspect is the victim of domestic violence? (Society for Human Resource Management)
- Domestic Violence and the Workplace (Workplace Fairness)
Other Reports & Data
- Partners in Social Change: Bystanders as Primary Prevention (Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, 2010)
- Bystander Survey & Findings (Opinion Research Corporation & RF Insights, 2006)