Active Bystander


Sexual violence is not just an individual problem—it’s a societal problem. Because of this, we all have a role to play in preventing harmful sexual behaviour in our communities.


The term “bystander” means a person who witnesses an event happening. This could include people crowded around watching a fight, people who witness a car crash or people who witness online bullying. There can also be bystanders to sexual violence, especially in settings like house parties and clubs.


There are two types of bystander: a passive bystander and an active bystander. A passive bystander is someone who witnesses an event happening but does not do anything to help—for example, they film the fight on their phone, or scroll past online bullying without intervening. An active bystander is someone who does something to help.

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active bystander


Something that often prevents people from being active bystanders is a psychological phenomenon called the “Bystander Effect”. In 1964, a woman was murdered in New York City in full view of a crowd of people, and yet not one of them intervened. Psychologists believe that people are less likely to help when there are lots of people around, because the responsibility is divided up between everyone instead of resting on one person’s shoulders. In other words, everyone is thinking, “someone should do something to help”—which means that no-one does anything!


We know that being an active bystander can be a big ask, and there are a lot of barriers preventing people from speaking up and getting help in harmful situations. This is especially true when it comes to witnessing sexual violence—it can be hard to confront people about their sexual behaviour and we often feel it’s not our business to interfere. People might also be worried about their safety. However, we believe that there are safe ways to step up and speak out to stop sexual violence from happening when we see it or hear about it.


If you see sexual violence happening or feel like it’s about to happen, please step up. If you’re worried for your safety, get a group of people together to help you or call a trusted adult. If you’re really worried, you can always call the NZ Police at 111.

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Check out the video below to see the profound effect that being an active bystander can have on preventing sexual violence. You can help to make a difference! Please note that, while the video is fictional, there are occurrences of sexual violence.