What is Bystander Intervention? | myTherapyNYC


We have all experienced a moment when we feel called to act on behalf of someone in need. If that person is a stranger on the subway, on the sidewalk, in a bar, or in a store, we might default to “mind our own business.” But what can we do when we feel someone’s safety is being compromised right before our eyes? How do we act and help without letting the danger escalate? We may feel particularly compelled to act when we witness harassment, abuse, and violence motivated by hatred of race, gender, religion, color, sex, size, orientation, disability, age, or national origin. In a situation that is ambiguous, we can rely on the framework of onlooker intervention. What is viewer intervention? It is a set of techniques that allow us to assess a situation and use an effective toolbox to intervene as safely as possible.

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What is a viewer intervention?

There are two forms of viewer engagement: proactive and reactive. Today we’re going to go over tips and techniques for reactive viewer intervention. You can use this when the harassment is about to start, is in progress, or has just happened. Bystander intervention is important because it can be even more traumatizing for survivors to experience the apathy of witnesses to their abuse.

By preparing in advance, we engage in proactive viewer intervention. This speaks for preventive, usually educational, methods to address forms of harassment and violence. Many colleges, workplaces, and more offer bystander intervention training to help participants feel more prepared, with examples of what to say or do, and even ways to describe different scenarios from the subway to the office to the web rehearse. Proactive viewer intervention focuses on promoting and sustaining a world where the culture of harassment, abuse and violence has no place.

We may participate in bystander intervention in any environment where we encounter harassment, abuse, or violence. Today we will focus on situations where we see someone who has been a victim of violence on the sidewalk, on the subway or bus, while out shopping, in the office, at a bar or party, in the classroom or at the gym. Viewers go through 5 behavioral and cognitive processes:

  1. Note the event
  2. Interpret the event as an emergency
  3. Register the level of responsibility
  4. Identify a form of support
  5. Implement an action step

If you want to feel more empowered to intervene, know that educating yourself is important. Know what harassment, abuse, and violence look like so you know when bystander intervention is needed. Realize that your willingness and willingness to help is a crucial step. It contributes to the difference between apathy and action.

Intervention techniques for bystanders: the 5 D’s

The 5Ds are a framework for reactive viewer engagement. The goals of the 5 D’s are:

  1. supports the person concerned
  2. Emphasize that harassment is not okay
  3. Show others that they also have the power to make communities and workplaces safer
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The 5 D’s are: distract, delegate, document, delay and direct.



Distracting is a diffusion technique that diverts attention and can cause the molester to lose interest. The key is to completely ignore the harasser and engage the person they are targeting in disconnected conversation. Some examples:

“Can you tell me how to get to the Empire State Building?”

“Do you know what time it is?”


“I love your shoes.”

You can take it a step further: when you show them your phone, hold it open for a note that says “Need help?”. or “We can go away together.”

If you are unable to hold a conversation, try other ways to draw attention to yourself. If you’re at a party, loudly spill a drink or knock over a chair. At the office, maybe try out some fake sneezes and complain loudly about seasonal allergies. In the train? Nothing will stop everyone like yelling you saw a rat. If it feels safe, consider switching so that you are physically between the person being harassed and the harasser.



If possible, be sure to ask the person if they would like help. They might offer to call someone for them, alert someone nearby, or call an appropriate first responder. If possible, get help from someone else and make an informed judgment about who you choose. Many people do not feel comfortable or safe in law enforcement. Sometimes one or both of the people involved have a mental crisis. In these cases, without effective training, law enforcement can only escalate the violence. It is strongly recommended not to call a resource such as 911 without a specific request from the person being harassed. Use your best judgment and know that sometimes the best answer available is far from ideal.

In many cases, you may want to find an authority figure. New Yorkers definitely know that transit, retail, or social service workers don’t typically have the ability to intervene. However, you can know what next steps to take. Security guards at places like shops, museums, amusement parks, schools or universities are examples of third parties to contact. If it’s a school, a teacher may be able to help. Consider connecting with other viewers, even when you’re alone. It is especially useful to seek help from those who have more power or ability under certain circumstances.


Don’t jump to documenting first unless other viewers got to the previous Ds before you. Documenting may include taking photos or video. You can also write down details about what you observe or the perpetrator, such as: B. a license plate or ID number.

When filming, play it safe. Filming could protect you and others or increase the risk of injury. Keep a safe distance. Film street signs or other background indicators of time, date, or location, or verbally state the date and time. Film what happened: including torn clothing, evidence of violence such as blood, hate speech and threats, identifying information of the perpetrators of violence such as license plates or ID cards.

Do not post or use the footage online without permission. Broadcasting a moment of harassment to the public is exploitative and unhelpful. If possible, offer to share the footage as documentation that could help the data subject with their chosen next steps.

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If you can’t trade right now, check back later. Sometimes harassment happens too quickly to even consider the first 3 Ds. Show empathy for what the person experienced. Ask if they would like company or any support you can offer. This is a good time to let them know if you have a recording and offer to share it. Remember to respect if the victim doesn’t want to file a complaint, contact resources, or even talk to you.


Be specific about what is happening and/or confront the harasser directly using short, simple and direct sentences:

“Your behavior is wrong. Stop.”

“Leave her alone.”

“That’s disrespectful.”

“This is racist/homophobic/transphobic/etc.”

We want to do our best to resist the urge to engage, debate, or fight. Insults, yelling or threats from the harasser will often escalate the situation. Direct action can even be non-verbal. Sometimes the physical presence of another person is enough to encourage the harasser to continue.

A direct response carries the greatest risk, as the victim’s harassment may escalate and/or the harasser may redirect their abuse to you instead. We need to assess the physical safety of ourselves and those around us, especially the person being harassed. Are other people around? Do I know where the nearest exit is? Is there a shop open nearby? You can intervene particularly strongly if the person who is harassing others is your friend. Use your power to confront them directly. For example, you can’tWhen a not-so-sober friend wants to go to a private place with an acquaintance, think creatively to distract or redirect.

We are spectators in many ways

The point of viewer intervention is act directly on behalf of the harassed person or are subjected to harassment or violence. While we have examined bystander intervention in situations involving strangers in public, bystander intervention can occur in different ways.

We’re not just bystanders on the subway or bus, in the grocery store or in the classroom. We are also bystanders when people around us are vulnerable to sexual predators in places like college parties and bars. We are bystanders when a friend or loved one is in an abusive relationship and is ambivalent about staying or going. We are also bystanders as we raise children and teach them that attacking others based on goals is wrong Race, gender, religion, skin color, gender, height, orientation, disability, age, national origin – or anything else. While reactive intervention by bystanders is just one way to reduce violence, it’s important to know what to do, what to say—or not to do and say—the next time you have the power to speak to another help.

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Do you find it difficult to find your way in the complexity of the world? Therapy can help. Contact myTherapyNYC today for a free consultation.

Has an bystander ever intervened on your behalf?? What did they do or say that helped? Join the discussion in the comments below!


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