We tend to think of most bullying situations as a two-person interaction between perpetrator and the chosen target. But there’s typically a third component involved: the witness or bystander who is either present when bullying occurs or learns about it later. It is the actions (or lack thereof) of these bystanders that is often the most important factor in whether bullying is stopped in its tracks or allowed to continue unchecked.

What is an upstander? An upstander is a helpful bystander: someone who sees something wrong and takes positive action to make it right. They’ll do all they can to protect and support anyone who is being treated unfairly or intentionally hurt.

Bullying rarely happens in complete isolation. One Canadian study, for example, found that more than 80% of bullying incidents in schools happen in front of witnesses. The situation in workplaces is similar – someone usually knows what’s going on. The question is: what are doing about it?

Being an upstander means doing something to help (supporting the victim, reporting the incident, discouraging others from contributing to the problem, etc.).

Without strong upstanders, a bullying target can feel terribly isolated. Bullying affects everyone, so always ask yourself ‘What can I do to help’?

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Jessica Hickman is a professional member of these associations: