Bystander intervention: A better way to prevent harassment?

Bystander intervention: A better way to prevent harassment?

Sexual harassment has dominated headlines for at least the past year. While many of the cases in the news involve high-profile Hollywood moguls and politicians, the #MeToo movement has had an impact on workplaces everywhere, with women’s (and men’s) stories about harassment and abuse continuing to surprise us.

Why is this still happening?

As an HR professional, I am dismayed. It is proof that our policies and trainings are not working well enough. A new approach is needed.

I’m impressed with a method called Bystander Empowerment (or Bystander Intervention, or Bring In The Bystander). I’m excited to think that bystander empowerment may indeed be a useful way for all of us to take action to make our work, social, and family lives more respectful.

Simplified, bystander empowerment makes preventing harassment everybody’s responsibility. And it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. Bystanders, or witnesses, find we have a range of options — so that we can choose the one we’re most comfortable with. In general, a bystander can take three approaches: direct, distract, or delegate. Three D’s; easy to remember. There are fun examples of using the three d’s in response to street harassment here.

What I’ve learned:

  • Bystander intervention is effective in various situations: sexual violence, racial harassment, and bullying.
  • There is a continuum of escalating behaviors in aggression, and learning how and when to intervene earlier in the continuum can be safer and most effective.
  • Bystander intervention is being extensively researched and training has been shown to have an effect on people’s behavior.
  • There are great trainings on bystander intervention, but we all can do it without specialized instruction. All it takes is to make a commitment to act and then perhaps practice intervening behaviors or assertive responses.
  • What I particularly like is that one small act of a bystander can prevent a one-time incident, but that when enough of us are empowered to act we can change broader culture of violence and send a message that it must stop!

Finally, on a professional HR level, it remains crucial that all institutions have a commitment to take harassment claims seriously, investigate fully, and discipline fairly.

More information on the three D’s can be found here.


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