Who is an ethical bystander?

A bystander is someone who witnesses an event. An ethical bystander is someone who witnesses an event that concerns them, chooses to do something, and considers the safest way to intervene. Ethical bystanders play an essential role in keeping our campus safe and help build a culture of respect and zero-tolerance to violence.

In 2016, 25% of students at universities across Australia witnessed another student being sexually harassed. Almost a quarter of those students took action in response. The most common response was talking to the survivor (person who experienced the harassment), followed by talking to the perpetrator (person who did the harassment).1 Small actions can make a big difference! 

Need emergency support?

If you are experiencing an emergency or have just experienced sexual assault and misconduct then you can call:

  • 000 for immediate police or ambulance assistance
  • UQ Security +61 7 3365 3333 for on campus emergencies
  • 1800 Respect 1800 737 732 for 24/7 counselling support

How to be an ethical bystander

The most important thing to consider is safety- for yourself and others involved. Often you don’t have to intervene directly, or in a confrontational manner, distraction can also be a good technique! When considering your intervention, remembers the 5 DsDistract, Delegate, Direct, Delay, and Document.

When to be an ethical bystander

Being an ethical bystander is not about being a hero. Ethical bystanders notice something they think is dangerous, inappropriate or unjust and decide they can do something about it. Remember that sexual harassment can look different in different situations- sexual harassment can include unwanted physical touching, ‘jokes’ of a sexual nature, whistling and catcalling, or comments about someone’s appearance.

It’s really important to remember that sexual assault is grounded in unequal social power dynamics. Prevention requires us all to challenge sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic and transphobic comments! A simple “that’s not cool” response to a sexist ‘joke’ can make a big impact! Find out more and watch an example of when to be an ethical bystander.

What stops people from intervening?

It is encouraging that in 2016, nearly 25% of students at universities across Australia did take action when witnessing sexual harassment.1 Understanding why the other 75% did not, can help us reflect on what stops us from intervening and maybe make changes going forward. Find out more about what stops people from intervening and the bystander effect.

Be an ethical bystander

Every time you witness something that concerns you, you have the chance to be an ethical bystander and contribute to the wellbeing of individuals and our community! Even if the people involved are strangers, or you don’t know exactly what’s going on, it doesn’t hurt to make sure everything is alright.

Some useful links


1.         Australian Human Rights Commission. Change the course: national report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian Universities. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission; 2017.

2.         Public Access Direct. Show Up: your guide to bystander intervention. New York, NY: Centre for Urban Pedagogy; 2017.