Sexual harassment can happen in any area of a person’s life – in private, at school or at work. Women are more likely than men to be victims of sexual harassment, but it can happen to anyone.
Everyone has the ability and responsibility to help keep our streets, workplaces, schools and campuses safe from sexual violence and harassment. Bystanders – also called witnesses, defenders or upstanders – are key actors in nonviolent intervention and sexual harassment prevention.
What is a bystander?
A bystander is a person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved, or a bystander could witness the circumstances leading up to an event.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment does not always have to be specifically about sexual behavior or directed at a specific person. For example, negative comments about women as a group may be a form of sexual harassment.
- Sexual harassment can take many forms, but it is almost always an abuse of power.
- Like sexual abuse and sexual assault, sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault.
- While the harasser is the only person responsible for his or her behavior, the victim and other people can take action to stop it.
How can active bystanders prevent sexual harassment?
Stepping in may give someone a chance to get to a safe place or to leave the situation. Bystanders don’t have to be heroes or even stand out from the crowd to make a big difference.
- Awareness. Bystanders need to know how to identify instances of sexual violence.
- Sense of Responsibility. Bystanders need to feel motivated to step in and take action. It might be easier to help friends than strangers, but everyone deserves to be safe.
- Weighing pros and cons. Bystanders should consider threats to their own safety and the potential they could change the outcome of a dangerous situation or help a victim.
- Confidence. People who feel more confident in their ability to help are more likely to take action.
- Building Skills. People need to know what to do and how to do it. bystander intervention training can give motivated community members skills to intervene in ways that protect their own safety and are truly supportive to victims.
- Context. Bystanders also need safety nets for themselves – resources they can call upon and community policies that support intervention.
In the Workplace
Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces some of the laws that protect employees from various types of discrimination, including sexual harassment. See EEOC's information on sexual harassment at work.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers can take steps to prevent sexual harassment:
- Clearly communicate that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
- Provide sexual harassment training.
- Establishing an effective complaint or grievance process.
- Take immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.
Find out more from the Office of Compliance.
Help for Victims
To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.
For more information about helping parents prepare for back-to-school, check out the QuickSeries guide: Spot it. Stop it. Be an Active Bystander