Have you witnessed sexual violence?

Role of Witnesses

Examples of situations you might witness

I was having a drink with my friends at a bar. I saw the guy put something in the drink of the girl he was with. No one noticed…except me.

A group of us got together at the park. A guy was sitting next to his girlfriend. She started talking about their sex life. He asked her to stop. She laughed and started kissing him to keep him quiet.

I was leaving the photocopy room at work. I saw a supervisor standing behind one of his employees. He was caressing her shoulders and whispering something in her ear. I saw a tear running down her cheek.

I left my apartment and I saw two people a little further down the hallway. He seemed reluctant to enter the apartment. The other person convinced him to go in. It didn’t seem right.

The party was in full swing. They were a lot of people and they were drinking. I saw a guy go into a room where a girl was unconscious. I heard him lock the door.

Information IconDon’t stay there watching what’s going on without doing anything. 
Be an active witness and do something to prevent sexual violence.

An active witness is someone who observes an unacceptable behaviour toward someone else and intervenes to change the course of events.

If you witness unacceptable or questionable behavior

BEFORE: Assess the situation

  • Look at the environment you are in. 
  • Decide (rely on your instinct) if what you are seeing is unacceptable and whether you can intervene.
  • Figure out what your options are and the associated risks. Decide if you want to act now or later. 
  • Call the police (911) or the Protection Services (613-562-5411) if the person (or others) are in immediate danger or if you’re afraid for your safety.

DURING: Intervene

After assessing the situation, decide if and how you will intervene.

  • Put an abrupt end to the behaviour by interrupting it (e.g., ask the potential victim if you can call a taxi for her) or by distracting the aggressor (e.g., ask the person for the time or directions, knock over your glass, start up a conversation or say someone is looking for them “over there.”).
  • Speak in terms of yourself: “I feel __________ when you __________. Please stop.”
  • Use humour if appropriate (e.g., “Ouch!”), or use body language or silence to show your disapproval.
  • Change the perspective: “I hope that no one talks about you like that.” Or “What if someone said what you just said about someone you care about?”
  • Tell a bouncer, bartender, security guard or a friend of the potential victim what is going on.

AFTER: Break the silence

  • Ask the person how they are doing and whether you can help (e.g., “Are you okay? I saw what happened and I was wondering if there is anything I can do?”). 
  • Talk to the aggressor in private if it’s someone you know well (e.g., “I know you well enough to know that you didn’t want to hurt anyone by your comment, but I’m not comfortable with that kind of humour in this environment – I think it was hurtful.”).
  • Learn more about sexual assault. The more you know, the more you can share your knowledge with others.

For more information

This campaign created by Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes (AOcVF) and the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) engages the community in a dialogue on sexual violence. It aims to debunk the myths and inform everyone how to intervene effectively and safely.

This campaign created by the Ontario government engages the community in a dialogue on sexual violence. It raises awareness and informs people on the means to become an active witness as well as an ally.

Tools and resources

Please note that the feminine is used throughout this website, but it does not exclude any person who has been a victim of sexual violence.

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