Bystander intervention

Learn how to be an active bystander, including speaking out if you witness concerning or harmful behaviour.

When we speak up and call out inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour, we help build a safer and more inclusive community for everyone. Bystander intervention is about recognising a potentially harmful situation and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome.  Whether it’s at Uni, work or out in public, there are ways that you can speak up or step in when it is safe to do so. Even the smallest actions can make a difference.

Call out disrespect

If you witness harmful or concerning behaviour, it’s normal to be nervous about calling it out.

Speaking up doesn’t have to be a big thing, and it doesn’t have to end in an argument or fight. Even if you aren’t sure whether someone is being intentionally harmful or inappropriate, or a bit careless, there are things you can do to encourage those around you to rethink their behaviour and comments. After all, if something seems a little off to you, chances are others are feeling the same way. Read the tips below and consider attending a Bystander Intervention workshop; where you will gain skills and confidence to call out disrespect using real life examples in a safe and friendly environment.

Simple and effective ways to call out disrespect

Actions can speak louder than words. You can respond to inappropriate jokes by rolling your eyes, shaking your head, pretending you don’t get the joke, or by simply not laughing. You can also turn away from the person making inappropriate comments, and start a new topic of conversation with another member of the group.

This can be effective if you’re not quite sure whether the person’s behaviour or remarks are inappropriate or just clumsy. By asking, ‘what do you mean by that?’ or ‘it sounds like you’re implying that...’, you can encourage the person to rethink their actions and words and how these are being interpreted.

Sometimes it is hard to know what to say in the moment. You can always take the person aside at a later time and let them know that their behaviour was not okay. This gives you some extra time to think about the best way to respond.

This will help to avoid your comments being taken as a personal attack. A response like ‘I don’t think that joke was very funny’ or ‘those comments weren’t okay’ is likely to be more effective than saying something like ‘you’re sexist’ or ‘you’re racist’. This is also effective when dealing with those grey areas where people don’t realise that they are being offensive. By pointing it out, you can help them to see that the impact of their words or behaviour is more important than their intentions.

If you’re uncertain about the situation, or if somebody has been affected by inappropriate behaviour, try to find a quiet moment to check in with the person. Listen to them and ask if there is anything you can do to help.

Thinking ahead about how you would respond to harmful or concerning behaviour will help you feel more prepared to call it out. Having a plan, or even just a few lines to draw on in a difficult situation, will mean you are far more likely to act when it counts.

RMIT has zero tolerance for racism. We are committed to creating an inclusive environment for our diverse community where everyone feels safe and respected. To do this, we need your help. Standing up to racism isn’t always easy, but it’s the right thing to do. By planning ahead, you’re more likely to feel confident about challenging racism if you witness it.

Calling out racism

Calling out disrespect online

View Gender Equity Victoria videos and resources

Resources for calling out sexism and sexual harassment

The Australia Human Rights Commission also investigates complaints of racism, discrimination and breaches of human rights. Their service is free, impartial and informal. 

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Get support

If you have experienced concerning, threatening or inappropriate behaviour, on or off campus, support is available. Contact Safer Community to discuss your concerns and options. 

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.