Hollaback! is working to end harassment with the 5Ds of bystander intervention

Hollaback! works to end harassment in all its forms by transforming the culture that perpetuates hate and harassment. We carry out this mission by building the power of everyday people to create safe and welcoming environments for all.

One of the main pillars of our work is bystander intervention: we train people to respond to, intervene in, and heal from harassment. We recognize that the systems and structures that create and reinforce harassment across our society are fundamentally made of people. We aim to equip everyday people with the tools to undo harassment in their everyday lives and to create impact in the organizations, institutions, and businesses around them. 

Injustice can feel overwhelming: It can be hard to know what each one of us can do to help ourselves and communities feel safe – especially in times of crisis. Bystander Intervention is a safe and accessible tool that you can use to act when witnessing harassment. It’s something we can all do to show up for one another and make our communities safer. In fact, research from Cornell University shows that bystander intervention significantly reduces trauma for the person being harassed. In Hollaback!’s trainings, we outline the 5Ds of bystander intervention – actions you can take to make a difference.

Let’s talk about what the 5Ds can look like in action:

Distract: Creating a distraction to de-escalate the situation 

Distraction draws attention away from the intensity of the harassment and ultimately de-escalates the situation. For example, you could drop your coffee — and people would scramble to help you clean it up or avoid the mess. You could also start a conversation with the person experiencing the harassment. Here, the idea is to build a safe space with the person being harassed while denying the person doing the harassing from getting the attention they are seeking.

Delegate: Finding someone else to help

Our favorite person to delegate to intervene is the one right next to us. Like us, they could share the very human desire to take care of other people. Unlike us, they may not have been trained in bystander intervention. Asking them to document a situation, intervene directly, or go and grab the manager while you monitor a situation are simple ways to create support for you when intervening, as well as for the person being harassed. You can also reach out to your HR department if you’re at work, and/or the social media companies where the harassment occurs — but it’s best to check in with the person being harassed first.

Document: Creating documentation and giving it to the person who was harassed

Whether you’re using your cell phone camera, pen and paper, or saving screenshots and hyperlinks, documentation is powerful. It offers their power back to the person being harassed and gives them the reassurance that what happened was wrong — while simultaneously giving them the concrete evidence they will need if they decide to report it.

Delay: Checking in on the person who experienced the harassment

Sometimes the harassment occurs too quickly for any intervention during it, so your intervention happens after the fact, and hence, is delayed. When this happens, a quick check-in can remind the person that what happened wasn’t okay and that anyone would be upset by it.  When you Delay, you’re showing them that you’ve got their back regardless of what they choose to do about it (even if they choose to do nothing).

Direct: Setting a boundary with the person doing the harassing, and then turning your attention to the person being harassed

This is the most misunderstood of the 5D’s. It’s easy to assume that it’s about telling the person doing the harassing off, or at the very least, educating them. But it’s not really about them at all — or even about you for that matter. Like all of the 5Ds, it’s about prioritizing the person being harassed. Start by setting a boundary: say,“Hey, what did you mean by that?” or “That’s so disrespectful; give them some space.” Then turn your energy away from the person doing the harassing, toward the person being harassed. As tempting as it may be, don’t get into a  back and forth.  People actively harassing others aren’t in a mindset to learn at that exact moment, anyway.

In Hollaback!’s bystander intervention trainings, we say that each person has a superpower – a method of intervention that they feel most comfortable with.  If you’d like to find your superpower, learn more about the 5Ds, and practice showing up as a bystander, we invite you to join one of Hollaback!’s upcoming bystander intervention trainings, including trainings addressing anti-Asian/American harassment and xenophobia, conflict de-escalation training, street harassment, online abuse, and more. 

CREDO and supporters like you make it possible for our trainings to be free and accessible – thank you for investing in a world where everyone has the right to access public space!