Bystander Intervention: How To Deescalate Dangerous Situations : Life Kit What would you do if you saw someone being harassed on the bus, or attacked in broad daylight? Most of us would like to think we know how we'd respond — but intervening in dangerous situations is easier said than done. Here's how to step in.

COMIC: How to intervene when someone is harassed or attacked

COMIC: How to intervene when someone is harassed or attacked

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Chances ​are, ​​​you've​ already​ witnessed something as a bystander.​ Maybe, as a kid on a playground, you saw another kid bullied. Perhaps as a teenager at a party, you saw someone being sexually harassed. Or, as an adult on a bus, you saw someone attacked.

There are countless moments where we instinctively sense someone may need help, but something holds us back.

That inaction has a cost. An attack, when it happens in public, isn't just between two people. It involves everyone who witnesses it, and how we respond sets the tone for what we all tolerate.

Listen to the podcast version of this comic here.

In the episode, illustrator Felicia Chiao describes being publicly attacked. Read her comic about coping with the experience here.

Knowing what to say or how to safely intervene isn't always clear. But we don't have to stay paralyzed between a "fight or flight" response. There are many ways to calmly assess a situation and effectively deescalate harm.

For tips and advice, Life Kit spoke with victims of public violence and harassment, as well as trainers at Hollaback!, an organization seeking to end harassment.

Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR
If you see someone being harassed or attacked, what can you do? As the pandemic progresses, news of anti-Asian violence has become more widespread. In March, a man attacked a 65-year-old Filipino woman outside of an apartment building in Manhattan. [Image description: A man kicks an elderly woman on the ground as bystanders look on.]
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR
In surveillance footage of the attack, one man inside the building watches the assault and does nothing. Another man approaches the door and shuts it. The incident sparked a public outcry and discussion about bystander intervention.
If you see a similar situation, what are your options? Gabriela Mejia is a training and communications associate with Hollaback!, an organization seeking to end harassment in its many forms. She shared with Life Kit five options bystanders can take: distract, delegate, document, delay and direct.[Image description: Gabriela is an adult with long wavy hair wearing a dark sweater.]
Cause a distraction to make the person being harassed less of a target, like asking for directions or pretending to know them. [Image description: Gabriela models various scenarios, in one she asks, "Hey, do you know where I can find a bathroom?" while in another, she pretends to know the person being harassed. In a final example, she drops a cup of coffee, saying "Whoops, dropped my drink!"]
Ask for help from someone around you or an authority figure. But remember the presence of law enforcement doesn't always make people feel safer. Check with the person being harassed before calling the police in order to center their safety. [Image description: Speech bubble reading "Hey, can you help? This person is being harassed," is posed to security guards, a fellow commuter and a bus driver.]
Record a video on your phone, take photos, or even write down detailed notes. Note information like date, time and place to help verify your record. Hand over what you have to the person being harassed and let them decide what to do with it. Note: local laws regarding recording someone can vary.
Always remember that your goal is to deescalate harm, not be the hero of the story. It should never be about you, but instead about how you can support the person being targeted. [Image description: Gabriela and an elderly man hug each other and look off into the distance.]
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR

Editor's note: Hollaback designates the fourth "D" as "delay," but in our comic, the fourth "D" is called "debrief." The explanation of the action is the same: It doesn't happen as the harassment is taking place, it happens after. It's a delayed response. You can think of it like a debrief.

Since this article was published, Hollaback! has changed its name to Right To Be.

This comic, illustrated by Connie Hanzhang Jin, is based on a Life Kit episode on the same topic. The podcast version is hosted by Ruth Tam and was produced by Clare Marie Schneider.

We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at

For more Life Kit, subscribe to our newsletter.