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How Important Is Bystander Intervention in Sexual Harassment?

By Dan Atkerson on November 06, 2015

Director yelling at the assistantMore often than not, instances of sexual harassment go unreported. Victims commonly either try to laugh it off, deny the harassment, or simply try to avoid the culprit. It sometimes becomes necessary for more direct action to be taken, but victims are not always able or willing to do so. That is when bystander intervention in sexual harassment situations becomes crucial.

Not all sexual harassment can be witnessed. For example, quid pro quo harassment, in which the victim is required to perform sexual acts in exchange for employment opportunities or raises, is often done behind closed doors with only the victim and harasser present.

However, other forms of harassment, such as hostile work environments, can easily be witnessed by co-workers.

How Can Bystander Intervention Help Sexual Harassment Victims?

Bystanders can act in a variety of ways to stop or prevent instances of sexual harassment. The likelihood and type of intervention taken by the witness depends largely on their involvement and the severity of the incident.

If the bystander is not involved or feels the incident does not constitute a severe infringement, they may decide to ignore the situation. It is imperative that observers do not allow themselves to give in to the temptation to do nothing.

Here are some actions that bystander can take to help stop or prevent future acts of harassment:

  • Act to keep harasser and victim separated
  • File a complaint against the harasser
  • Accompany the victim to file a complaint against the harasser and offer witness testimony
  • Remove the victim from the situation
  • Interrupt the unfolding incident of sexual harassment
  • Publically call other witnesses to action
  • Approach the perpetrator and demand that they stop harassing the victim
Bystander intervention is often the most overlooked but most effective way to stop and prevent sexual harassment. If you witness sexual harassment, take action, and advise that your co-worker do the same.

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