USE YOUR VOICE. If we had a euro for every time we said that phrase, we’d be living in the Bahamas and our only worry would be what pair of sunglasses would we wear to the beach today. We can dream, right? Anyways, back to the important stuff. Our voices are our biggest gift and the most powerful tool in our toolkit. Over the past few years, there has been loads of talk all over the world about what it means to be a woman; what we can and can’t do, what we are or are not worth and how we value ourselves and each other. It’s been a revolution, and things are starting to change.
We still aren’t paid equally, and we don’t have enough representation when it comes to making big decisions that affect all our lives. However, we are starting to speak up and work together to create change, which is a really positive thing. We don’t all have to agree with each other or see eye to eye, but we do need to make sure that each and every one of us feel heard and valued, and we must defend each other’s right to have choices.
Okay, so why are we telling you this? Well, Alana (some of our long time Shona readers will know Alana as one of our OG Shona Ambassadors) is a member of The Bystander Intervention programme at UCC which forms part of a strategic response to the issues of sexual misconduct and violence among student populations.
Today, Alana and The UCC Bystander Intervention team break down their top tips on how to be an active bystander in situations where you come across behaviour that just doesn’t sit well with you, and you find it to be problematic. The thought of being an active bystander might seem really scary and as you grow up, you’ll be faced with more and more opportunities where you’ll have to decide whether or not you want to act. It’s a big power being placed in your hands, but don’t worry, we are here to support you and arm you with some important information you will need.
So what is a bystander?
A bystander is a person who sees or hears an event or a situation but are not directly involved. They have the power to be a passive bystander – someone who doesn’t act, or an active bystander – someone who recognises the behaviour of a person or group as problematic or wrong and decides to do something about it. You’ve probably been a bystander at some stage in your life already, you may have responded to the situation or turned a blind eye.
An active bystander can see and choose to respond to many situations such as:
- Bullying at school, at work, in public or at home – this can be physical, verbal or emotional abuse used to undermine and isolate a person from other people in a group.
- Homophobic/Biphobic/Transphobic/Racist/Sexist conversations/comments/situations.
- Sexual assault or sexual misconduct.
Now this isn’t a definitive list and there are many other situations where you could be a bystander, but it is a good list of the types of problematic behaviour that you might come across. in your life.
These conversations happen every day, how do you know if and when you should intervene, and more importantly, why should you be the one to intervene?
Recognising the signs and signals of bad behaviour in your daily life can be hard at first, but tuning into the context of a situation and having a good understanding of consent and problematic behaviours is a good start. The next step is to feel a sense of responsibility and to develop your own instinct to want to respond to bad behaviour when you see it, knowing that your intervention in a situation could make all the difference, both short term and long term, to the people involved. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you need to have confidence in your abilities to intervene in the moment, or if the event has already occurred, being able to provide support afterwards.
We can never assume that someone else is going to intervene, we can start the conversation and initiate change where we see the opportunity.
Intervening in a situation can be difficult – how do I take action if I see problematic behaviour?
Being an active bystander doesn’t have to be confrontational – there are lots of ways you can step in to resolve a situation safely and impact the outcome of events positively.
It could be as easy as distracting the perpetrator or removing the potential victim from a situation before the event or action occurs. Something as simple as asking someone for the time, calling out to someone who looks uncomfortable to start a conversation with them, or if you’re with a group of people, orchestrating a separation between the perpetrator and the person they’re harassing.
There are always more direct ways of intervening. You can outright tell someone that their behaviour is unacceptable, like if someone uses racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic language, confronting the person if they are being abusive and telling them to cop on. In these situations, there might not even be a person who is directly affected present. However, stopping this behaviour in its tracks indicates intolerance and might make someone think twice about passing a nasty comment again. You should gauge the reaction of the potential perpetrator, and consider your own safety. If you feel like a situation could become unsafe and is beyond your control, call 999 or 112 and call for support. Only intervene if it is safe to do so. Sometimes calling for help, whether it’s a friend, a person in authority or the Gardaí, can be the most effective intervention you can make.
But being an active bystander doesn’t end once we avert a situation. If you are approached by someone who has been the victim of mistreatment after an event has happened, you can be an active bystander by providing emotional support: pointing them in the direction of services and supports or being a listening ear.
Why should you act?
Being an active bystander is important because how you react can literally change the course of someone’s life – long term or short term. You’ve got the power to impact someone for good rather than leave them with a memory or experience they will look back on with regret and perhaps deep trauma.
I want to learn more and be a better bystander, what can I do?
If you’re looking for examples of bad behaviour and want to train your Bystander eyes, we’ve got a series on our social media called #BystanderTalks where we break down problematic behaviours from pop culture, using shows like Love Island as a tool to demonstrate bad behaviour and how people stand up to it. We also run Bystander Intervention training where you can earn a digital badge by learning about how to be an active, pro-social bystander.
So, do you feel a little more informed on what an active bystander is and how you can be one? We know we are! If you want to keep up to date with The UCC Bystander Intervention team, you can follow them on Instagram and Twitter – @BystanderUCC or visit their website https://bystanderintervention.ucc.ie
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