Bystander Program

In the context of sexual harassment, a bystander is a person who observes sexual harassment firsthand or hears about it subsequently. 

In the workplace, bystanders can include co-workers who are informed of workplace sexual harassment through the ’grapevine’ or are sought out by victims or harassers for support or advice. Bystanders also include a range of people formally authorised to receive reports of workplace sexual harassment, such as managers, supervisors, human resource employees or harassment contact officers.

Becoming an Active Bystander

Witnessing or hearing about sexual harassment in the workplace can be physically, psychologically and professionally damaging for a bystander. Negative impacts for bystanders can be similar to those of victims who directly experience sexually harassing behaviours. This has been referred to as ’ambient sexual harassment’.  Bystanders can be affected by an incident of sexual harassment, by an inadequate response from the employer, or by victimisation and bullying following an incident.  To understand more about the potential negative impacts of bystander actions click on the link below.   

Five Steps to becoming an Active Bystander

Notice the event

Naturally, some people are far more observant than others. We are all different in how we observe and notice things. Noticing what is happening and being aware of the situation involves careful observation, reflection and being present when incidents occur. Sexual harassment in the workplace can occur anywhere and between anyone – by individuals or within groups. Keep observing and noticing the situations where it occurs and watch for patterns of behaviour that may confirm that what you are observing is sexual harassment.


Understanding that what you are observing is a problem – that it could be sexual harassment – is the most important step to being an active bystander. You should not take any actions that puts you, or someone else, in danger. Think about your own perceptions and attitudes of others. Ask yourself would you behave in the same way? Would this kind of behaviour be acceptable if it were directed at a friend or family member? Do you feel uncomfortable in the situation? Is this behaviour a safety issue that needs to be addressed? Will any actions I take put myself or others in any danger?.

Be responsible

Feel responsible for helping in an appropriate way – this includes understanding the role of a bystander and empowering the person who has been sexually harassed. Remember that there could be many others that feel the same way that you do but are reluctant to act. Being an active bystander means assuming responsibility and not relying on others. There are different ways to be an active bystander. Below is an illustration for practical bystander actions.  The actions higher up the ladder indicate higher levels of action than those below.

Diffuse: Light-hearted comment Making a light-hearted comment to try and stop the situation or express disapproval. This could be said in private or with an audience. This can also include giving a pointed silence or a disapproving look.

Check in: Check in with the person harassed Checking in with the person harassed to express your disapproval, ensure they are OK, and offer support. 

Call out: Call out the behaviour and education Calmly disagree and publicly declare the action or statement of the harasser to be wrong or unacceptable. 

Report: Report the behaviour If the person harassed agrees, support them to report the behaviour through the organisation’s sexual harassment reporting system, or an external reporting system.   

Apply knowledge and skills

Use your knowledge and skills to decide what is the appropriate next step. If necessary, take a little time to reflect and consider what your options are. Offering support to the person harassed – and listening to their concerns and wishes – will help determine the next step.   


This could mean formally reporting the incident if the harassed person agrees, or it could be as simple as listening to the person who has been sexually harassed and asking them what support they would like.

Program Summary 

Active bystanders can play a role in reducing the harm of sexual harassment and ensuring there is no tolerance for sexist or sexually harassing behaviours in the workplace. Here, we’ll discuss some safe and practical strategies you can take if you witness sexist or sexually harassing behaviours.

Active Bystander Program Summary: Empowering Positive Change in Australia

The Active Bystander Program is a comprehensive training initiative designed to equip individuals with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to proactively intervene in situations involving harm and discrimination. By fostering a culture of active bystanders, we aim to create safer, more inclusive communities where all individuals can thrive without fear of harm or discrimination.

Module 1: Understanding Harm and Discrimination

  • Definition and types of harm (e.g., bullying, harassment, racism, sexism)
  • Impact on individuals and communities
  • Myths and misconceptions

Module 2: The Role of the Bystander

  • Exploring the bystander effect
  • Recognizing our responsibilities
  • Ethical considerations in intervention

Module 3: Core Principles of Active Bystander Intervention

  • The 5 Ds framework: Direct, Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay
  • Assessing when to use each strategy
  • Empowering individuals to choose appropriate responses

Module 4: Building Communication and Assertiveness Skills

  • Effective communication techniques
  • Active listening and empathy
  • Practicing assertive responses

Module 5: Cultural Sensitivity and Diversity

  • Addressing bias and prejudice
  • Promoting inclusivity and respect
  • Recognizing and challenging stereotypes

Module 6: Legal and Ethical Considerations

  • Australian laws and regulations related to harm and discrimination
  • Reporting mechanisms and legal protections
  • Ethical dilemmas in bystander intervention

Module 7: Community Resources and Support

  • Identifying local support organizations and helplines
  • Navigating reporting procedures in various settings
  • Providing emotional support to those affected

Module 8: Real-Life Scenarios and Case Studies

  • Interactive discussions on diverse, real-world situations
  • Group analysis and decision-making exercises
  • Sharing personal experiences and insights (optional)

Module 9: Action Planning

  • Developing individual and community action plans
  • Setting achievable goals for active bystander intervention
  • Establishing accountability and follow-up mechanisms

Module 10: Program Evaluation and Continuous Improvement

  • Gathering feedback from participants
  • Measuring the program’s impact on attitudes and behaviors
  • Identifying areas for program enhancement

The Active Bystander Program equips individuals with the tools to make a positive difference in their communities. By fostering active bystanders who are willing and prepared to intervene when necessary, we contribute to the creation of safer and more inclusive environments for all Australians. Together, we can combat harm and discrimination and promote a society built on empathy, respect, and equality.