The 4 Types of Bystanders

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Before, during, and after a sexual harassment incident or a series of incidents, every person in the workplace assumes one of the following roles:

We are either the targeted individual - the person being harassed.

We’re the instigator of the incident - the person doing the harassing.

Or we’re a bystander - the person who sees or hears something but is not directly involved.

As bystanders, we each have the power to affect a situation either in a positive or negative way. Whether we speak up, take action, or do nothing, we are a part of the story and the outcome.

In general, there are 4 different types of support that we can provide to a targeted individual. These include:

  • Empowerment-based support: Encourages and supports someone with the ability to take action. Example: encouraging someone to speak up for themselves or encouraging them to report.

  • Action-based support: Steps into the situation to distract or somehow protect the targeted individual. Example: Removing the person from the situation or finding someone else to help (police, manager, etc).

  • Solution-based support: Takes action to resolve the issue, often by confronting the ‘instigator’. Example: defining the line for someone else.

  • Inactive: Being aware of the situation and choosing to not act or ignoring/negligence. Example: the mentality of “it’s not my problem”.

The worse thing we can do is be an inactive bystander. Like the great, Kelly Sue DeConnick once said,

"You don't get to be a good guy, just because you aren't a bad guy*".

We each have a responsibility to offer support when we hear or see something that's inappropriate.

Now you may be asking yourself, what about the times when someone tells me about something that happened a while ago or there was no one around to witness the interaction. The best way we can be an active bystander is by thanking the person for sharing their story and asking what actions (if any) they would like to take.

The worst thing we can do is not believe the person's story. While we may not know if what they are telling us is factual, the worst that can happen from believing the person is you later find out it wasn't true. On the flip side, if we don't believe them, then we're less likely to hear about future incidents or situations. And that's not good for anyone.

As a bystander, you have the power to drastically change a situation. Whether you speak up, create a distraction, or check-in with the person afterward, your actions and words are going to spark real change in and out of the workplace.

To find out more about how Define the Line is training bystanders head over here.

(970) 818- 5007

*The use of the word guy does not imply that this is only a "guy" issue, it refers to all people. It's like saying "hey you guys" to a group of people with various gender identities and expressions.