LEGAL RIGHTS BULLETIN: Witnesses – Helping to Break the Silence


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Your office is located near a supervisor’s office. On several occasions, you see a visiting customer make inappropriate sexual references to another worker, but the supervisor does nothing. What are you doing?

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You are in the break room and you notice that several people are looking at suggestive photos. Are you saying something?

Many incidents of bullying, whether in person or online, occur in the presence of other people, but bystanders who witness this type of behavior often don’t know what to say or do in the moment. Spectators often wonder if they should say or do something.

Spectators can sometimes feel powerless in the face of a situation. They may feel they cannot help or make a difference.

However, bystanders can intervene to prevent harassing behavior and reduce harm to others, helping to change the culture of tolerance in the workplace that allows such behavior.

The Five Ds developed by Hollaback! movement and the Green Dot bystander intervention program offer bystanders a range of options to respond to witnessing harassment in the workplace.

During the incident, a spectator can Distract or Direct.

Distract. In the moment, you might distract or disrupt the situation. This intervention interrupts the interaction between the harasser and his target. You can ask a question, start an unrelated conversation, or make up a task and say you need help. Such distractions allow the bullied person to physically leave the situation.

Direct. If you feel safe about the bully’s behavior, you can tell them in a respectful, direct, and honest way that their words or actions are not acceptable to you.

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For example, you could let them know that you generally like their jokes, but this one crossed the line for you.

Or if you hear someone make a comment that blames the victim for being assaulted or sheds light on sexual violence, you might say, “You need to stop,” “This is inappropriate,” or “We need to talk. what you just said.” said”.

After the incident, a viewer can Delegate, Delay, and/or Document.

To delegate. You can find the appropriate third party to intervene, such as a supervisor, security officer or another colleague.

Delay. If you can’t or choose not to intervene at the time, you can support the person who has been harassed by following up with them later. You can also confront the bully afterwards to let them know that you found their behavior unacceptable.

Document. If you document the incident, be sure to follow up with the person who was harassed and ask them what they would like to do with the documentation. Do not share it without their consent.

To learn more about what it means to be a bystander and what you can do to help break the silence of workplace sexual harassment, contact Carmen Titus at 226-881-0874 or email [email protected] .

Carmen Titus, Senior Counsel CKLC SHIW (, 519-351-6771)


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