Active Bystander

Being an active bystander is all about identifying potentially harmful situations and acting to ensure that everyone involved is okay with what is happening. This page is focussed on being an active bystander in party environments, but you can use active bystander skills in other areas of your life too. 

On this page: The Role of Bystanders | Being an Active Bystander | Learn More: Workshops

The Role of Bystanders 

 A party is a great atmosphere to kick back, relax, and have fun. At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that alcohol and other drugs can sometimes be used to put people in a vulnerable state. This means that there could be a higher chance of harmful situations happening.  If we all took the role of active bystanders we could dramatically reduce these situations from occurring and contribute to a safer party for everyone.  

Watch this video to see how we can all play an active role in contributing to a safer environment. Content note: sexual assault and sexual violence. 

Quick Tips on Being an Active Bystander

How do you know when to act?

Below are some signs that can indicate when someone seems uncomfortable in a situation, or is not consenting with what is going on. 

  • Body turned away from the other person
  • Not looking at the other person, but looking around the room, or at other people
  • Crossed arms or otherwise closed off body language
  • Giving the other person short replies or not engaging in conversation with them
  • One person looking more intoxicated than the other

Barriers to action

While it might be easy to read the signs that a friend needs you to get involved because they are not comfortable with the situation occurring, it might not be as easy to tell if it’s someone you don’t know. 

The following ‘D’s outline how to get involved: Remember, you don’t have to be a superhero to be an active bystander! 

  • Be direct. Approach the situation directly.
    • Approach the person you are concerned about. Say “Hi”, ask how their night is going, ask if they want to get a drink with you, tell them the party is moving and invite them to go with you. Anything to give that person a way ‘out’ of the situation if they are looking for one.
    • Approach the instigator. Say “Hi”, ask them how they know each other, ask how long they have been at the party. Anything to get inbetween the situation that is unfolding.   
  • Delegate. Find another person to intervene on your behalf.
    • Let a friend of the person you are concerned about  know and ask them to check on their friend. If you are at an event, bar or a club ask a bartender or organizer for help/assistance, especially if you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others.
  • Distract. Do anything that distracts those involved in the situation. Providing a 3 second window is all that is needed to give someone a chance to get ‘out’ if they need one.
    • Draw the initiator’s attention to something else. “Accidentally” bump into them and say sorry, introduce yourself, tell them you think you have a class together, or ask them if they want to come join you and your friends.  

Always try to act consensually, and always take your safety into consideration. 

The Workshop

If you are interested in learning more about identifying and interrupting potentially harmful situations and responding compassionately to individuals affected by sexual violence you can sign up for the free Becoming an Active Bystander workshop offered at McGill. This workshop strives to foster a community of responsibility, to reduce the incidence of sexual violence, and to create a safer space on campus. You can also bianca.tetrault [at] (request) workshops for student organizations and groups.