• Apollina "Polly" Kyle

The 5 D’s of Bystander Intervention

Learning what to do if you witness or become aware of sexual harassment in your workplace

Most people know this situation all too well. You feel in your gut that a situation is somewhat off, whether that is on the train, in a coffee shop, or at work. You feel like you should do something but you don’t always know what that something is.

For example, say you’re an employee listening to colleagues make inappropriate sexual comments about their female colleagues after work drinks. By overhearing this conversation, you have become a bystander.

A bystander is someone who directly observes harassment, people to whom sexual harassment is reported to, or people who targets of sexual harassment seek support or advice from.

When you find yourself in this situation, you can take a stand. Bystander action is the action people take in response to watching sexual harassment or hearing about it after it has occurred.

Maybe you’ve heard of the bystander effect before. The bystander effect, as defined by Darley and Latané in 1968, is the phenomenon in which the presence of people (i.e. bystanders) influences an individual’s likelihood of helping a person in an emergency situation.

This psychological study believed that as the number of people who are present in an emergency situation increases, the less likely it is that any single individual will help someone in need. For example, if you’re seeing someone getting into a fight, you assume someone else is going to call the police.

This is where bystander intervention training is the most effective. Bystander intervention training combats the bystander effect, and it has proven to be effective. 82% of bystanders who witnessed sexual harassment took some form of action and bystanders are four times more likely to take action against harassment than targets themselves. These numbers are critical as almost half of workplace sexual harassment stops after a complaint is made or some action is taken.

There are 5 D’s of bystander intervention to help you determine what is the best method to give support to someone who is being sexually harassed: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct. This method was originally developed by GreenDot and has been expanded by other organisations to protect communities from bias and harassment. The 5 D’s are as follows:

Distract: This method is a subtle, but creative way to intervene. The idea is to ignore the harasser and directly engage with the target by derailing the incident without interrupting it. The goal is to not talk or refer to the harassment that is occurring, but to talk about something completely unrelated. An example of this is to get in between the harasser and the target, but continuing what you were doing, or to make a small commotion to get the attention away from the target.

Delegate: When using this method, you as a bystander are asking for assistance from a third party. For example, if you notice harassment occurring at work but do not feel you are in a place to intervene, you can seek out HR or security as they may be in a better position to help. You can also ask for a friend or colleague to use the method of distraction while you find someone who can help.

Document: A helpful way to assist a target is to make a record of the sexual harassment incident. This can support the target if they want to take further action against their harasser. At Metta Space, we believe it is important not to take away the agency of the sexual harassment target and with our app, bystanders can write a record of the sexual harassment incident, with the date, time, location, event, perpetrator, target and other witnesses noted down.

Delay: Even if you were not able to help in the moment, you can still support the target who was sexually harassed by checking in on them after the incident. Often times, sexual harassment can be brief or in passing, making it hard to always intervene. But even sitting with the target after the incident can help validate the negative occurrence. For example, to use the tactic of delay you can ask them if they are okay and tell them you are sorry for what happened to them. You can ask them to see if there is any way you can support them. And if you used the Document method, you can ask them if they want you to share your records with them.

Direct: Sometimes the best method for a bystander can be the Direct method, wherein you directly respond to harassment by naming what is happening or confronting the harasser. As this is a riskier method than the others, ensure your own safety before getting involved. Some examples of this can be the bystander demanding that the harasser stop their behaviour against the target or interrupt the incident and alert the target of sexual harassment of your support. It can also work hand and hand with the Document method; the bystander can report sexual harassment on behalf of the target.

Everyone plays a role in eradicating sexual harassment and creating a safe working culture. As a bystander, there are many ways one can get involved and help targets of harassment. These methods work not only for sexual harassment, but instances of bias or discrimination that you may come across in everyday life.


Written By: Apollina "Polly" Kyle, Research Ambassador at Metta Space

Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space

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