An active bystander is someone who not only witnesses a situation, but takes steps to speak up or step in to disrupt a potentially problematic situation or keep it from escalating. A bystander can PREVENT as well as deal with the potential outcome. 


Have you ever been in a situation where you have been a bystander and something problematic has happened? Did you do something about it? 

How do I know if the behaviour is problematic? 

  • Is the behavior mutual or wanted?
  • How would I feel if I were in that situation?
  • Would I want someone to help me or intervene if I were in their shoes?
  • Would I want to see someone I care about in that situation? 

As part of our harassment prevention approach we have developed an activity called 'where do you draw the line?'. This activity was launched as part of the We Get It campaign in 2014. It presents a series of what have been termed micro-agressions and asks people to think and talk about their behaviour and that of others.

The following links provide further information about various forms of harassment:

 Some other things to think about:

  • What are the pros and cons of intervening?
  • Is there someone else who can help me intervene?
  • It is safe for me to intervene or should I call for help?


If you see an incident occur and you think it is problematic, it is important that you are able to talk about it.

  • Talk to a friend. Talking things through with someone you trust can sometimes help. 
  • See a Harassment Support Advisor. An advisor can talk through the University's procedures, including how to make a complaint and what support is available, in confidence.
  • The UMSU Advice Service is a free, confidential, impartial service where an advisor can talk through the procedure, including how to complain, explain what options are open to you, and support you through the process.  

If you feel safe to do so, you can address the person being targeted or the problematic behavior directly. 

Things you can say to the person being targeted:

  • Can I help? 
  • Can I call someone for you? 
  • Can I walk you home?
  • Is everything OK?
  • Should I call the police?
  • Are you alright?

Things you can say to the person behaving problematically:

  • What you said earlier really bothered me...
  • I don’t like what you just did.
  • I wonder if you realise how that comes across.
  • How would you feel if someone did that to your sister or brother? 

Be an Active Bystander 

The following are some key ways to help in these kinds of situation:

  • Remove. By removing someone from a potentially risky situation, you can directly disrupt and defuse the situation and ensure their safety. 
  • Distract. Maybe you're not sure how to directly address a situation, so the best and safest thing to do is derail a conversation to stop someone from taking any further steps that are problematic. 
  • Delegate. In some cases you might want or need to call for help in order to stop something from escalating or happening. In this case, get support.

The film below is about the bystander intervention and has been made by UWE Bristol students involved in the Intervention Initiative.

The film seeks to engage and empower students to speak out and step up when they hear problematic things being said or see problematic things happen which facilitate sexual and domestic violence and gives examples of the types of situations where they would intervene. It also informs people about some of the early warning signs of domestic abuse.

The Intervention Initiative is a resource for universities and further education settings in England, developed in 2014 by the University of the West of England on receipt of a grant from Public Health England. It is an evidence-based educational programme for the prevention of sexual coercion and domestic abuse in university settings, through empowering students to act as prosocial citizens. 

This approach has been adopted across campuses in the USA, where it has been successful in facilitating culture change within institutions and communities. The social benefits of using a bystander method to tackle all forms of harassment, discrimination, stereotypes and micro-aggressions have been evidenced by authors such as Nelson et al (2010). 

You should only challenge behaviour if you feel safe to do so. If you do not and it is an emergency call 999 (or 112 from a mobile).  If there is no immediate danger you can report it. 


Use the Report section of this platform to report bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination. If you like, your report can be passed to a trained advisor, who can get you the right advice and support. You can also report something anonymously.

Get Support 

The following links provide further information on the support that's available for students and staff, whether something has happened to you or someone you know.