Right To Be
The 5Ds of Bystander Intervention
Why is it Important to Respond as a Bystander?

What’s worse than experiencing harassment related to your identity? Whether it’s about your race, color, religion, or immigration status; about your gender presentation or sexual orientation; about your size, age, or a disability you live with? Well, what’s worse than being harassed in public is being surrounded by bystanders who see it happening, but do nothing about it.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In recent history, we’ve been witnessing a spike in disrespect, harassment, and hate violence. As bystanders, we must be especially vigilant and aware of what these harms can look like, so that we’re ready to stand up and intervene.

When we intervene, not only do we reduce the trauma of harassment for the person who was harmed (yes, harassment can cause trauma!)…we also slowly chip away at the culture of harassment, and replace it with one of humanity.

What are Right To Be's 5Ds?

The 5Ds are different methods – Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct – that you can use to support someone who’s being harassed, emphasize that harassment is not okay, and demonstrate to people in your life that they have the power to make their community safer.

Anyone can use the 5Ds! They are designed to be safe and not to escalate situations. In fact, four of them are indirect methods of intervention. 

Where did the 5Ds come from? In 2012, we partnered with the bystander program Green Dot, who pioneered the Three Ds of bystander intervention, Distract, Delegate, and Direct. We worked with Green Dot to develop tools to help people intervene when they saw harassment happen. In 2015, we expanded those to include Delay, and in 2017 we expanded them again to include Document.

Distract

Distraction is a subtle and creative way to intervene. Its aim is simply to derail the incident of harassment by interrupting it. The keys to good Distraction are:

1. Ignore the person who is harassing, and engage directly with the person who is being harassed. 

2. Don’t talk about or refer to the harassment that’s happening. Instead, talk about something completely unrelated. 

Here are some examples you can try:

– Pretend to be lost and ask the person being harassed to give you directions. Ask them for the time. Pretend you know the person being harassed and act excited to have “randomly” run into them. Talk to them about something random, as long as it takes attention away from the person who’s harassing them.

– Get in the way. Continue what you were doing, but get in between the person harassing and the person being harassed.

– “Accidentally” spill or drop something or cause a commotion to shift the attention away from the harassment–you could drop your coffee or water, the change in your wallet, your phone (just make sure it’s in a strong case!)…

The power of Distraction is that no one has to know you are actually intervening in harassment! If you’re someone creative or shy, or if it seems like the person doing the harassing might escalate their behavior if you speak out openly against it, then Distraction can be a great, subtle option for you. 

Delegate

Delegation is asking a third party for help with intervening in harassment. The keys to Delegation are:

1. Look for a Delegate who is ready and willing to help. Often, a great choice is the person right next to you.

2. When you Delegate someone to help you, try to tell them as clearly as possible what you’re witnessing and how you’d like them to help. 

Here are examples of what you can do:

– Say to your Delegate: “I think the person with the red hat is making the one in the blue jacket uncomfortable. Can you help me get them out of the situation? Can you Distract by standing in between the two while I go ask if ‘Blue Jacket’ is okay?”

– In public places, your Delegate could be someone who has authority in the space: a store supervisor, bus driver, or a transit employee. Near a school campus, it may be a teacher or administrator. 

– Speak to someone near you who also notices what’s happening and might be in a better position to intervene. Work together to come up with a plan to intervene.

Sometimes people wonder: “Can I Delegate the police to intervene in harassment?” Our response is that you should not contact the police unless you’ve checked with the person being harassed and they’ve explicitly asked you to call the police on their behalf.

This is because some people may not be comfortable or safe with the involvement of law enforcement. For many people and communities, a history of mistreatment and violent escalation by law enforcement has led to fear and mistrust of police involvement. There are many people – for instance communities of color and undocumented individuals – who may rightfully feel unsafe in the hands of police. Join one of our free, virtual bystander intervention trainings to get more depth and context on our stance than we can share in this resource. 

Document

Documentation involves either recording or taking notes on an instance of harassment. It can be really helpful to record an incident of harassment, but there are some keys for safely and responsibly documenting harassment:

1. Assess the situation. Is anyone helping the person being harassed? If not, use another of the 5Ds. Recording someone’s experience of harm without ensuring they’re already receiving help can just create further trauma for them. If someone else is already helping out: assess your own safety, and if you are safe, begin documenting. 

2. ALWAYS ask the person who was harassed what they want to do with your recording and/or notes. NEVER post it online or use it without their permission. 

There are several reasons for #2. First, the experience of harassment could very well be traumatic for the person who was harmed. Posting another person’s traumatic experience anywhere without their consent is no way to be an effective or helpful bystander.

Being harassed or violated is already a disempowering experience, and if we publicize an image or footage of a person being harmed without their consent, it can make them feel even more powerless. If the documentation goes viral online, it can make that person visible in a way they may not want to be. 

Also, if we publicize footage of someone being harassed in a way that is illegal, we can open a host of legal issues for that person without their consent. Our action may force them to engage with the legal system in a way that they’re not comfortable with. 

Check out this video from WITNESS for tips on how to Document effectively. 

Delay

Even if we can’t act in the moment, we can still make a difference for someone who’s been harassed by checking in on them after the fact. Many types of harassment happen in passing or very quickly, and it’s not always possible we’ll have a chance to intervene in another way. But we don’t have to just ignore what happened and move on. We can help reduce that person’s trauma by speaking to them after an instance of harassment. 

Here are some examples of how you can Delay:

– Ask them if they’re okay, and let them know you saw what happened and it wasn’t okay.

– Ask them if there’s any way you can support them.

– Offer to accompany them to their destination or sit with them for a while.

– Share resources with them and offer to help them make a report if they want to.

– If you’ve documented the incident, ask them if they want you to give them the documentation. 

Direct

Sometimes, we may want to respond directly to harassment by naming the inappropriate behavior confronting the person doing harm.

Use this one with caution, because Direct intervention can be risky – the person harassing may redirect their abuse towards the intervening bystander, or may escalate the situation in another way. The first key to Direct intervention is to assess the situation before you decide to respond, by asking yourself the following questions:

1. Are you physically safe? 

2. Is the person being harassed physically safe? 

3. Does it seem unlikely that the situation will escalate? 

4. Can you tell if the person being harassed wants someone to speak up?

If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you might choose a direct response. 

The second key to Direct intervention is to keep it short and succinct. As tempting as it may be, avoid engaging in dialogue, debate, or an argument – since this is how situations can escalate. If the person harassing responds to your Direct intervention, focus your attention on assisting the person who was harmed, instead of engaging with the person doing the harm.

If you choose to intervene directly, here are some examples of what you can say:

– “That’s inappropriate,” “That’s homophobic,” “That’s disrespectful,” “That’s racist,” “That’s not okay,” “That’s harassment,” etc.

– “Leave them alone.” 

– “Please stop right now.”

– “They’ve asked you to leave them alone and I’m here to support them.”

A note about safety: We don’t ever want you to get hurt while trying to help someone out. Always prioritize safety, and consider possibilities that are unlikely to put you or anyone else in harm’s way.

OUR UPCOMING TRAININGS

Right To Be

Upcoming training

Bystander Intervention to Stop Anti-Asian/American and Xenophobic Harassment

August 17, 2022

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EST

Right To Be

Upcoming training

Stand Up Against Street Harassment

August 18, 2022

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EST

Right To Be

Upcoming training

Bystander Intervention to Stop Anti-Asian/American and Xenophobic Harassment

August 17, 2022

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EST

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YOU ARE POWERFUL

Remember, everyone can do something. At this time in our history, it is even more important that we show up for one another as active bystanders. Research shows that even a knowing glance can significantly reduce trauma for the person who is targeted. One of the most important things we can do is to let the person who is targeted know, in some way, however big or small, that they are not alone.

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