How to be an active bystander against sexual harassment
The behaviors that make up sexual harassment exist on a spectrum. While some behaviors – such as sexist jokes, inappropriate sexual comments, innuendos, catcalling, or vulgar gestures – aren’t illegal, or may not always result in a violation of University Policy, this does not make them any less harmful to the person experiencing them.
It may not be safe or effective to directly confront the individual engaging in problematic behavior in every situation, but there are a range of ways bystanders can be involved before, during, or after a situation when they see behaviors that encourage sexual harassment:
Disrupt the situation. Every situation is different, and there is no one way to respond. When you witness a person being harassed in the workplace you can:
- Respond directly to the harming behavior,
- Delegate to someone in a trained role such as a supervisor, and/or
- Try to distract the person engaging in the problematic behavior by interrupting the incident or conversation to ask for assistance with a task. You could insert yourself into their interaction, if it is safe to do so, to help the person whom the behavior is directed at get out of the situation.
Gather support. Get support from people around you by calling on others to help. The more people who come together to interrupt a situation, the more you reinforce the idea that the behavior is not acceptable in our community.
Confront the individual engaging in the problematic behavior. Whether or not you know the individual, you can intervene by telling them in a respectful, direct, and honest way that their words or actions are not okay. Some examples of what to say could include:
- Please stop; that is inappropriate.
- What you just said made me feel uncomfortable. Here’s why…
Focus on the needs and experience of the person(s) impacted and ensure they receive the support they need. Let them know that what happened is not their fault. Check in to see what the individual may need.
You can report sexual harassment to the University. You can submit an online referral or learn more about what happens when a report is made. Depending on the information provided, either the Office of Institutional Equity or the Office of Community Standards may have the jurisdiction to investigate.
Adapted from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2019.