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Ways you can help

If you see or hear abusive or harmful behaviour, there are various ways you can help.

This is something we can all do. Whether it’s happening to a friend, a family member, a colleague or a stranger. If it’s in person or online. 

By being prepared with some strategies in advance, you’ll find it easier to react safely and calmly when the moment comes.

Should you step in?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s happening in a situation, and if it’s something you should get involved in. If you’re unsure, try to focus on the person being targeted.

Signs to look out for

  • Are they looking uncomfortable or upset?
  • Do they appear frightened?
  • Are they trying to escape or move away?
  • When you make eye contact, do they respond in a way that makes you think they want help?

Intervening safely: the Five Ds

Intervening doesn’t have to be confrontational. A good option is to familiarise yourself with the Five Ds1 intervention model, developed by Right To Be. These are a range of tactics you can use to diffuse a situation and support someone who’s experiencing abuse – without putting you or anyone else at risk. 

The idea is to use a combination of these, depending on where you are and who’s involved.

What are the Five Ds?

  • Involve others. If you don’t feel it’s safe or appropriate for you to step in, see if you can get someone else to intervene for you or with you. This could be someone in authority – the driver or guard if you’re on public transport, or bar staff or security if you’re in a bar or club. But it could just as easily be another member of the public or a passer-by who’s willing to help. If the situation is serious enough, you might also decide to call the police – see Reporting abuse below.

  • Interrupt the incident. You could do this by dropping something nearby or creating some other minor commotion. Or you could strike up conversation with the victim, asking for directions or pretending you know them. If you’re at work, you could make up an excuse to speak to the person about an unrelated task. Simple actions like these will give the person being targeted a chance to move away.

    Just be aware that in some situations your intervention could cause more distress – so make your intentions clear and take the hint if they don’t want your help.

  • Used alongside the other Ds, this technique can help to support and empower the person experiencing abuse and help you to be a witness. Documents or records can be handwritten, typed, screenshots, screen recordings, audio recordings or video recordings. They may become valuable evidence if the abuse gets reported later down the line.

    Always check that it’s safe and appropriate for you to document the incident. If you take a video of abusive behaviour, ask the victim what they want to do with it before sharing it with anyone else.

  • If you think it’s not safe or appropriate to challenge the situation there and then, it may be best to wait until it has passed. At that point you can approach the victim to make sure they’re OK. Reinforce that it wasn’t their fault and that the perpetrator was out of order. Ask them if they want your help to get support or report the abuse.

    Having supported the person being harmed, you might say something to the person who inflicted the abuse another time.

  • If it’s safe to do this, you can step in and say something that directly calls out the abusive behaviour. It’s best to make clear, calm statements that don’t open the situation up for debate or argument, for example, “That language is not OK” or “It’s against the law to do that”. You can also show disapproval through body language or facial expressions. Always think carefully before taking direct action as it can cause a situation to escalate. Consider if you could combine it with other techniques, such as delegating or distracting.

Test yourself: what would you do?

Want to see how you could put these techniques into practice? Try out these scenarios. 

Your friend catcalls in the street
Controlling behaviour in your family
A stranger groping a woman in a club

Reporting abuse

Letting acts of abuse pass can make the people who commit them think their behaviour is acceptable. You can help by reporting abuse when you witness it.

Abuse in a public place

  • If you’re in a public place like a bar, club or shop, report it to staff or security

If you're a member of staff in a public venue and a member of the public approaches you to report an instance of abuse, you can: 

  • Listen to the victim or person reporting and reassure them you're there to help them.
  • Ask the victim or person reporting if they'd like to move to a safe space to talk.
  • If relevant, and with the consent of the victim or person reporting, document details of the abuse. 
  • If needed, escalate to your seniors or security staff to help intervene in the incident if it's still in progress. 
  • Call 999 in an emergency or, if not an emergency, call 101 or report it online

Abuse on public transport

  • If you witness abuse on public transport, report it to the driver or guard
  • If travelling by train, you can also report it to the British Transport Police by texting 61016 or reporting it online

Abuse at work or school

  • If you witness abuse at work, report it to your HR department or speak to your line manager
  • If you witness abuse at school, report it to a teacher or member of staff

Online abuse

  • If you see inappropriate content online, contact the service provider or use the report button on social media feeds

Involving the police

  • You can report an abusive incident to the police by calling 101 or making an online report
  • If you want to make an anonymous report, contact Crimestoppers
  • If you think someone’s life is in immediate danger, call 999.