Advice for bystanders

We can all play a role in keeping Murdoch a safe community for staff and for students. Preventing sexual harm is everyone’s responsibility.


If you recognise a potentially harmful situation we encourage you to intervene if it is safe to do so. This is known as bystander intervention. A bystander is also known as a witness, onlooker or observer.

Direct and indirect intervention strategies may alter the outcome of situations for the better. There are safe ways you can address the perpetrator or potential perpetrator, or the situation. Bystander intervention may prevent violence, sexual harm and unwanted comments of a racist, homophobic, sexist or transphobic nature.

This video explains bystander intervention in the context of sexual harassment and assault.

WARNING: Some viewers may find aspects of this video distressing. If you need to speak to a health professional, contact Murdoch University Health Counselling or Medical services.

According to our Sexual Harm Procedure, if a Murdoch or Partner staff member is informed of sexual harm in relation to the University by a person who does not wish to disclose their experience to the University, the staff member must provide de-identified information about the incident to the University via the online incident notification form or the Murdoch Safe app.

Ways to intervene

Members of the University Community are encouraged to intervene safely when they encounter instances of unacceptable behaviour. As active bystanders, there are a few intervention strategies you can use, if safe to do so. They include:

Direct intervention

You can intervene directly by addressing or challenging the perpetrator/ potential perpetrator or situation:

  • respond to harassment by naming what is happening or confronting the perpetrator or potential perpetrator – for example, “that is inappropriate, please stop it”
  • use “I” statements to address the perpetrator or potential perpetrator – for example, “I feel uncomfortable when you call Kathy names. Please be respectful”
  • derail the incident by distracting either party or interrupting the situation to talk about something completely unrelated – for example you could:
    • ask for directions
    • pretend you know the victimised person and ask for their assistance to remove them from the situation.
  • publicly support the victimised person – for example, ask them “are you ok?”

Indirect intervention

Indirect intervention allows you to do something about a situation without having to physically become involved. You could:

  • get help from a third party:
    • if you are on campus you could contact the police or Murdoch University Security, find a staff member or approach other bystanders
    • if you are off campus you could contact the police, or ask for assistance from security or a bouncer, the owner of the store, friends of the people involved, etc.
  • privately support the victimised person – if it is not safe to intervene at the time, you can provide support and care to the person who has experienced sexual harm at a later time.
  • help the person who experienced sexual harm to disclose or report the incident and link them with support services:

Supporting someone who has been assaulted

Sexual assault is distressing for the person who has experienced it, but it can also have a devastating impact on friends and family who care deeply for them. It is important for partners, family and friends to be supportive and to help the person overcome the effects of the assault. These are some ways you can help:

Provide a safe and supportive environment

  • Recognise that by disclosing to you, the person has chosen to trust you.
  • Provide the person with your full attention.
  • Remain calm; remind the person that this is not their fault and that they are not alone.

Listen and believe

  • Show empathy, respect and understanding.
  • Acknowledge the person’s feelings.
  • Allow the person to guide the conversation.
  • Allow the person to choose any follow up actions – remember that they may not wish to report the incident formally at this time.
  • Don’t ask ‘Why?’ questions – these may feel judgemental or make the person feel responsible (Why were you wearing that? Why were you with them? Why didn’t you go home earlier?).

Refer

  • Support and wellbeing options
    • Advise the person of support services available.
  • Report

Practice self-care

  • Supporting someone who has experienced Sexual Harm can be challenging. Look after yourself after receiving distressing information and seek a confidential debrief with a counsellor: