HOW YOU CAN BE MORE THAN A BYSTANDER

Being more than a bystander is about creating a culture in our society that intervenes in abusive attitudes and behaviour directed towards women in its earliest stages - before it has had the chance to escalate along the continuum of violence.

A culture that no longer sits idly by, allowing violence against women through the silence of bystanders, but one where individuals are empowered to actively help prevent violence against women.

Chances are that at some point in your life you have witnessed, heard or seen someone act in a way that was derogatory, degrading, abusive or violent towards women. Be it in the form of a joke, cat call, comment, put down, or physical or sexual assault, this is all violence against women.

In these moments, people often feel that their only choices are to say nothing, look the other way or physically intervene, potentially exposing themselves to violence. The truth is, there are many more choices.

Much like there is a continuum of violence against women, there is also a continuum of intervention. Intervention can take many forms and there is a mode of intervention to fit any and all individuals.

Intervention can be between friends and colleagues or between strangers. It can entail speaking out about an attitude/action or can be accomplished without using words at all.

When breaking the silence, the most important consideration is that of your safety.

If there is immediate danger or you feel that intervening would be unsafe for you, the woman or others involved, it is best to not intervene yourself but to call the police and/or security. When being more than a bystander, know that violence is never a solution and will only aggravate and escalate a situation.

In cases where there is no immediate danger, there are many ways that you can help by being more than a bystander and breaking the silence on violence against women.

NON-VERBAL WAYS TO BE MORE THAN A BYSTANDER (AMONGST FRIENDS)

Refuse to join in when derogatory, degrading, abusive and violent attitudes or behaviors are being displayed.

Register your lack of approval for such attitudes or behaviours by leaving the individual or group perpetrating them. Staying silent while others act and behave inappropriately condones what they are doing; leaving shows that you don’t agree with it and are not willing to participate or act as an audience.

Offer your presence. If you see that a woman is being targeted, simply stand near to her so that she and the harasser/abuser know that she is not alone. He may be less likely to continue or escalate the violence knowing that there are witnesses.

Give control to the woman who is the target of the violence by speaking directly to her, ask “Is he bothering you?”, or “Are you okay?” and ask “Is there any way I can help?” This takes power away from the perpetrator. If the woman says that she would like your help, do what you can to be of assistance. If she expresses that she is not in need of your help, respect this and move on.

Take action if there is a threat of immediate danger by calling local law enforcement.

VERBAL WAYS TO BE MORE THAN A BYSTANDER (IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE PERSON)

Distraction as intervention: If you witness a woman being harassed/abused, ask the perpetrator for the time, or clear your throat while standing near him, this will momentarily break his focus from the target of his harassment.

Vocalize your support as intervention. If a woman alerts you that she has been harassed/abused in a crowd, call out in support “Hey man, leave her alone”, “I don’t like how you are treating her, stop it”.

Refuse to join in and discourage others from participating. Be direct about what you have seen, point out the exact behavior/attitude/words/action, but don’t pass judgment on the individual perpetrating it.

Things you could say:

“I don’t think that joke is funny”, or “that joke makes me uncomfortable”.

“Your words/actions are uncalled for, what you’re saying/doing is wrong.”

“It’s wrong to treat women that way. I don’t agree with what you’re doing/saying.”

“What you’re doing is harassment, not only is it wrong, it’s criminal.”

“How would you feel if another man did this to your mother, sister, wife or daughter?”

Rally other bystanders to join you in voicing disapproval. “By being silent, you’re saying that this action/behaviour/attitude/word is alright with you. Well it’s not okay with me, I don’t respect it and I hope you don’t either.”

If there is immediate danger, call local law enforcement. If you feel it is safe to do so, let it be known to the perpetrator that the police have been called and that they should stop what they are doing because it is illegal.

VERBAL WAYS TO BE MORE THAN A BYSTANDER (AMONGST FRIENDS)

Ideally, approach the person when they are alone, calm and you are in a situation where you can speak openly without being interrupted. Let them know that you are coming to speak with them because you care about them and are concerned about what is going on.

You can say something along the lines of: 

  • “I care about you and I’m worried about you, can I help?”
  • “I couldn’t help but notice your actions/behaviours/attitudes/words the other day.
  • "I’m concerned because these actions/behaviours/attitudes/words are unhealthy.”
  • “I’m worried about you and her (and your children’s) safety because of your actions/behaviour/attitude/words.”
  • “I care about you and was really surprised to see you act/behave/speak in such a violent/unhealthy way towards your partner.”
  • “Your actions/behaviours/attitudes/words make me afraid that you may seriously hurt her if you don’t find a way to deal with your problems.”
  • “When you act/behave/speak to her like that, do you see the effect your words/actions have on her emotionally/physically? That isn’t acceptable, everyone has the right to emotional and physical safety, it’s criminal to take that away from someone.”
  • “Healthy partners don’t act/behave/speak like that towards their partner, at the end of the day it amounts to violence and you need to stop acting/behaving/speaking this way.” Loving your partner should mean protecting her from abuse, not perpetrating it against her.”
  • “The way you act/speak/behave makes me worry for the emotional and physical safety of your partner and your children. Children learn what relationships look like from their parents. Is this what you want your children learning is “healthy”?

Directly reference the behaviour that you are concerned about but do not judge them.

Try to avoid validating any excuses or justifications for the abuse. The purpose of your intervention is to help this individual acknowledge that their actions, behaviour, attitude, and/or words are not acceptable and get the help they need to ensure it is not repeated, not to justify the past.

Inform them that actions/behavior/attitude/words constitute violence and that they need to stop.

Provide him with some avenues that may help him curb his abusive behavior.

Remind him that it doesn’t have to be this way, that there is help and that both he and his partner deserve health in their relationship. You may suggest that he see a professional counsellor.

Contact your local community based victim service program to find out what is available in your area for men who use violence.