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A witness of bullying is a bystander observing a bullying incident. A witness provides an audience for the bullies. 85% of bullying occurs before a group of people. This compounds the inequality of power between the target and the person doing the bullying.

In many cases, witnesses contribute to the power play through their direct or indirect participation or through their behaviour in the form of laughter, presence, spreading rumours and observing without intervening. If a witness leaves or the crowd disperses, bullies may stop their threats because they will no longer have an audience to whom they can show off their power. Also, if a group (class, team, circle of friends) rebukes the bully’s behaviour, he/she will stop for fear of being ostracized by the group.

What a witness can do to help:

  • leave the scene to avoid encouraging the bully’s behaviour,
  • defend the victim,
  • comfort the victim,
  • seek help for the victim,
  • be a friend to the victim, or
  • talk to a reliable person.

Impact on the witness

A person who witnesses bullying may feel frightened, anxious and frustrated. A witness may worry about being associated with the person being bullied or with the bully, and be afraid to intervene and afraid of repercussions. A witness may feel guilty, powerless and without control.

Source: Canadian Red Cross