Be More Than A Bystander.

Jo Siggins, 27/3/18


Sexual harassment has been a chronic and longstanding workplace problem. The #TimesUp and #MeToo movements have demonstrated the widespread prevalence of harassment, particularly in the workplace. Unfortunately, those who experience sexual harassment rarely report it. 

Silence leaves most perpetrators free to continue their toxic behaviour.

Many people who witness or become aware of sexual harassment also don’t speak out and become part of a culture of silence.  The axiom of “evil prospers when good people do nothing” is ever present in today’s society. 

Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg wrote a Facebook post, later published in the media, in which he condemned the actions of Harvey Weinstein, but also admitted to being aware of Weinstein’s ‘overly-aggressive’ behaviour that was ‘rather dreadful’, but not taking any action. Rosenberg wrote, “Everybody-f—ing-knew” and “in the end, I was complicit. I didn’t say s—. I didn’t do s—. Harvey was nothing but wonderful to me. So I reaped the rewards and I kept my mouth shut. And for that, once again, I am sorry”.

Research shows that one of the reasons that individuals may fail to act when they witness harassment is due to ‘the bystander effect’.   

The bystander effect is where individuals are less likely to offer help to a person in distress when other people are present. The greater the number of people present, the less likely it is that any one of the bystanders will help. Several factors contribute to the bystander effect, including that some witnesses may believe that others present will intervene or report the issue so they don’t have to. Also, if no one intervenes, a witness may believe that the behaviour is acceptable or condoned by the wider group.  In a harassment context, a witness may also lack an understanding of what constitutes harassment.


The culture of tolerance towards sexual harassment needs to change.

Employers can take steps to encourage bystanders to take action, such as: 

· Having sufficient reporting systems so that staff feel safe to make a report. 

· Ensuring the workplace has clear workplace policies that includes definitions of what constitutes harassment.

· Providing ‘bystander’ training to staff to raise awareness of what to do if they observe, or are informed about, sexual harassment or other toxic workplace behaviour.

· Checking-in with the workforce to assess culture. Anonymous surveys or cultural reviews can sometimes reveal imbedded issues that need to be addressed. 

Are you a bystander? If you witness harassment or bullying, consider taking one or more of the following actions:

· Interrupt the behaviour – try to divert the harasser or victim away from the situation. This is only a band-aid fix as you may not be around next time. 

· Confront the perpetrator – if you feel safe to do so, tell the harasser that their behaviour is not appropriate.

· Report – talk to a Manager or Human Resources Officer. 

· Talk to the victim – offer support and encourage them to report the behaviour.

· Take notes – diarise dates and behaviours as you may be required to provide a detailed account of witnessed incidents.

While it is vitally important for victims to report such behaviour and seek help, it is also crucial that those who witness harassment or bullying be more than a bystander.  STAND UP and SPEAK OUT to SHUT DOWN the behaviour.


The author, Jo Siggins, has nearly 20 years experience managing and conducting a wide range of investigations, specialising in HR matters such as allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

As a qualified and experienced workplace trainer and WHS/risk management professional, Jo also provides group training and facilitation on a range of workplace topics. 

For information about Bystander training, or to discuss how Verity Group can assist your organisation, please contact us today for a free confidential consultation.