Responding to gender violence: Do's and don't's for a good bystander

We move through our lives by studiously avoiding the elephant in the room. Why?
Responding to gender violence: Do's and don't's for a good bystander
Responding to gender violence: Do's and don't's for a good bystander

On June 24, a young engineer was murdered at a railway station in Chennai in broad daylight. She was waiting for a train when her attacker approached her, and as the attacker walked away, so did the bystanders who witnessed the incident. They took the next train, without doing anything to help, and this apathy has been criticised every day since.

But here’s the thing: This wasn't a one-off case of bystanders refusing to help. Every day, in every city, we look away as women and girls are harassed on our buses, stalked in our streets, violently abused in our homes. We tell our colleague and classmates to ignore the abuse and move on. We move through our lives by studiously avoiding the elephant in the room. Why?

There are several reasons. First, we don’t know what to do, and therefore we do nothing. Second, we’re afraid of what might happen to us if we do something, and therefore we do nothing. And third, bystander effect: we all believe someone else will do the right thing, and therefore we all do nothing.

But the next time you’re in a situation where you witness violence, however big or small, here’s what you should (and shouldn’t) do.

The Good Bystander: Do’s and Don’t’s


Intervene directly. Confront the harasser or abuser about what you witnessed, if it is safe to do so. Speak to the parties involved if you witness domestic violence in your family/community.

Distract the abuser. Have you watched the Bell Bajao campaign? Break the moment. Give the victim a chance to escape, or make a phone call. Let the abuser know that you know, without directly saying so.

Delegate the task of speaking to the abuser to someone you trust. If it is a colleague, ask a trusted senior to warn them about their behaviour. If it’s a cousin, speak to a relative who can confront them.

Approach the abuser as a group. If you witness someone being harassed on a bus and are afraid to speak out alone, ask the others around you to speak up as well.

Respond after the incident. If you couldn’t do anything while it happened, at least check on the victim afterwards. Ask her if she’s okay, and if you can do something now. If you witness a violent attack, try to take photos of the attacker as he walks away. Call an ambulance if needed.


Do not intervene if your personal safety is at risk. Do not try to break up a violent fight unless you’re a trained responder. Do not try to personally tackle an a violent attacker with a weapon.

Do not involve the police if the victim does not want you to do so. If she is not ready to walk out, reason with her about why staying might not be a good idea. Do not take decisions for her.

Do not tolerate or dismiss violence as trivial. Do not tell the victim that her suffering is no big deal, or that she should ignore it.

Do not ignore an incident of gender violence, however small or big. Do not walk away as if nothing happened.

This article is a part of a collaborative effort between The News Minute, Prajnya and PCVC to raise awareness about gender violence. This has been compiled from multiple sources.

Prajnya is a non-profit centre for research, public education and networking on women's rights. gender violence, and women's history.

The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) is a non-profit organization that was set up in response to a need for a support agency for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Our services include crisis management, legal advocacy, support and resource services.

The article has been republished with the update on the recent incident in Delhi. 


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