“If our understanding of nonviolence is to simply not be violent and to not do something, then it becomes very easy...to just be a bystander, and to witness all of...injustice ...and just say, ‘Oh, that’s none of my business,’ ...To me, nonviolence isn’t about what not to do, it’s so much more about what you’re going to do in the face of violence. When you see violence and injustice in your community, what are you going to do about it?” (Kazu Haga)

One way to support survivors is by saying or doing something in the moment of witnessing harm. Recognizing that some socialization conditions us to stay quiet or not know what to say or do, the following options counter that socialization and offer ideas to do something rather than nothing. This may include:

  • Connect with the person experiencing harm, e.g. asking “Are you okay?” or “How can I help?”
  • Cause a Distraction - e.g. asking a random question to cause a distraction to interrupt what is going on 
  • Confront - e.g. asking the person causing harm, “What do you mean by that?” 
  • Contact Back-up - e.g. asking another friend to do one of these things together, “Hey did you notice that? Let’s say something.”

Each of us may have been in situations where we notice something that didn’t seem right or perhaps that someone is harming or controlling someone else. Sometimes we don’t know what to do or say to stop the behavior or support the person being harmed. What’s the message when we don’t? What’s the message when we do? 

We all have identities (race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, citizenship status, etc) that impact the way we move through the world. People who have experienced harm are more likely to say or do something as bystanders than those who have not experienced harm. With that in mind, you might think about how to take care of yourself or seek support from others during or after you intervene. For example, is there a friend who could intervene with you? Is there a loved one you might connect with afterwards?

If you don’t know what to say or do as a bystander, what are you doing to change that? If you’re concerned about other challenges to intervening, how might you overcome them? You’re welcome to participate in a workshop with Healing & Advocacy about bystander intervention and supporting survivors.