How to hollaback bystander style.

Ellie Hutchinson

Final-Bystanders-DraftA wee disclosure; in my day job, I head up a bystander programme and I am a bit in love with these programmes. 

How often have you walked away from a situation and thought “I should have said xyz”?  Speaking out can be super scary, both physically and socially, and most of us have kept quiet at one point or another. Whether it’s with old school friends on facebook, relatives at Sunday lunch or some lairy dudes in the pub, most of us have been there.

Sometimes it’s too much to be having that conversation again, or we’re too angry to get into a pointless row, or we think it’s not our place to say anything, or maybe it’s not safe to speak out.

But if we witness street harassment or other forms of abuse, and it is safe, we should say something.

We should say something because it will make an individual difference. When we hold workshops, or when people post stories, they often talk about being surrounded by people who did nothing. The silence of strangers contributes to the shame and taboo of speaking out. When we do say something, the person on the receiving end will know that street harassment isn’t normal, it’s not all in their mind, and other people acknowledge how crappy it is. They’ll know that you have their back.

It also challenges the cultural silence around street harassment and can make a difference to other witnesses. Being an active bystander often starts a domino effect- who knows what impact you’ll have on the people around you? When all of us speak out, we become the majority and that is a good thing. That is how we make change.

So how do we do it? We sometimes think doing something is a choice between getting physically involved in a dangerous situation or walking away, but there’s a whole range of things you can do.

Who you are and where you are will change what you do. Whilst there’s not one way to do it, you might want to think about the following:

  • Can you delegate to someone? Is there an authority figure nearby? (For example, bouncers, site managers, conductors?)
  • Could you distract the harasser? (For example, asking for the time or directions)
  • Could you directly challenge? (For example, is everything alright?)
  • Support the harassed?  (For example ask if they’re ok)
  • Use body language? (For example, tutting, eye rolling, head shaking)

As a bystander there’s lots of ways you can Hollaback, and let folk know you have their back. If you’ve been an active bystander, or someone has spoken out when you’ve been harassed, share your story today.


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