We all need bystanders

When it’s late at night do you choose a well-lit busy street rather than a dark and empty one? Why does a busy train carriage appeal more than an empty one? There is the hope that if the worst happens, you will be seen, heard and helped.

This is so much harder in a home environment where most violence against women takes place behind closed doors. Abuse can be silent, muffled or shrouded in the routine of modern domesticity. Does your neighbour rarely leave the house because she is ill or because she is simply not allowed to? Are the couple next door re-decorating or are the bangs you hear the sound of physical violence?

When you are being abused you can become so isolated from networks of support you may not even know the very people that could step in to save your life.

We are all entitled to privacy but there are reasonable moments when this can be temporarily infringed on to ensure a person’s safety. When you notice someone at a cash machine crying as they withdraw money, can you walk by? If you hear screams from the house across the street do you go back to sleep?

At Solace we hear countless stories from women whose lives were saved by the intervention of a bystander, a neighbour or work colleague who listened to their gut and decided the risk of being perceived as nosy outweighed the other option of negligence.


As a bystander you might come across abuse in your work setting, a public place at home or nearby. Your perspective, insights and timely intervention can make the world of a difference.

You might ask yourself how can I support?  If it is safe to do so, there are three key options you could explore:

1.    Create a distraction
You can let both parties know you are present by interrupting the situation. You could ask for the time or some information, and stand in the line of sight whilst assessing the situation.

2.    Directly confront
Talk to the assumed victim – ask if they are ok, if they need help. Talk to the assumed perpetrator – remain non-judgemental and calm.

3.    Delegate the intervention
If you think someone else is better placed to take care of the situation, call a service such as the police or talk to someone senior, a friend of the perpetrator/victim, or an impartial source.

By stepping in to intervene you have made a decision that could potentially anger both parties even if it is with their best interests at heart. Assessing your own safety and the risks and consequences of taking action is very important.

Bystanders make up an important part of community because they look out for others beyond themselves. It is an open, honest and selfless act of caring and supporting those in society who are most vulnerable. We all need bystanders and we all need to be bystanders.

To learn more about our bystander training please visit: https://www.solacewomensaid.org/get-informed/training-consultancy