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How to intervene if someone is being harassed

Bystander intervention do's and don'ts

Bystander Intervention: Do's and Don'ts

Have you ever wondered what should you do if you witness public instances of racist, anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-Trans, or another form of oppressive interpersonal violence or harassment?

As white supremacist violence is on the rise, it is more important than ever that we know how to keep each other safe. Use these tips to assess how to intervene while considering the safety of everyone involved.  

The do's and don'ts of bystander intervention

DO make your presence as a witness known. If possible, make eye contact with the person being harassed and ask them if they want support. Move yourself near the person being harassed. If you feel you can risk doing so, create distance or a barrier between the person being harassed and the attacker. If it’s safe to do so—and the person being harassed consents—film or record the incident.

DO take cues from the individual being harassed. Is the person engaging with the harasser or not? You can make suggestions, “Would you like to walk with me over here? Move to another train car? For him to leave you alone?,” and then follow their lead. Notice if the person being harassed is resisting in their own way, and honor that. (Especially white folks, don’t police the tone of the person being harassed). Follow up with the individual being harassed after the incident is over, see if they need anything else.

DO keep both of you safe. Assess your surroundings—are there others nearby you can pull in to support? Working in a team is a good idea, if it is possible. Can you and the person being harassed move to a safer space/place?

DON'T call the police. For many communities experiencing harassment right now (including Arab and Muslim communities, Black people, queer and trans folks, and immigrants) the police can cause a greater danger for the person being harassed.

DON'T escalate the situation. The goal is to get the person being harassed to safety, not to incite further violence from the attacker.

DON'T do nothing. Silence is dangerous—it communicates approval and leaves the victim high and dry. If you find yourself too nervous or afraid to speak out, move closer to the person being harassed to communicate your support with your body.

Download the Do's and Don'ts for Bystander Intervention Poster

Additional resources

4Ds: Learn how to Distract, Delegate, Direct, and Delay

Use these practical tips on de-escalating instances of harassment and oppressive interpersonal violence. Content adapted by AFSC from Abbey Fox, Thought Catalogue, Jes Skolnik, Hollaback, and the People’s Response Team.

Don't Just be a Bystander

Watch this video for quick tips on responding to racist attacks in public. 

Bystander Intervention 101 (PDF)

This training guide by the People's Response Team in Chicago provides an outline for introducing participants to the dos and don'ts of bystander intervention using group discussion and role-plays.

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