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Your Role in Addressing Violence against Women

Usually we consider an act to be violent only when it physically injures an individual, but this is not so. Emotional and verbal abuse, economic exploitation, and violence perpetrated through new media tools are very common in Sri Lanka and should not be tolerated. Have you ever witnessed a woman being harassed either at work or in public transport? Have you witnessed a crime or an attempted crime against a woman such as sexual abuse or rape?

Women face violence on a daily basis, and very often there is someone who can step in to help, either by interrupting the act, reporting it or providing support to the woman or girl experiencing the violence. Bystander intervention provides information on how we could help someone who is being abused, whether in private or public life.



What Prevents Bystanders from Intervening?
  • If no one else is acting, it is hard to go against the crowd
  • People may feel that they are risking embarrassment. What if I’m wrong and they don’t need help?
  • They may think there is someone else in the group who is more qualified to help.
  • They may think that the situation does not call for help since no one else is doing anything.
  • With each person taking cues from people around them, a common result is that no action is taken.



Signs of an Unhealthy and Abusive Relationship
  • Is a person obsessively jealous and possessive about his/her partner?
  • Does he/she scare the partner so that the partner doesn’t feel like it is okay to disagree?
  • Is the partner constantly worried about his/her reactions to things?
  • Does he/she threaten the partner?
  • Does he/she grab, push, shove, or hit his/her partner?
  • Does he/she pressurize the other person for sex or is forceful or scary about sex, saying things like “if you loved me…”?
  • Does the partner feel the need to apologize for the abusive partner’s behaviour when he/she treats the other partner badly?



  • If you know a friend, colleague or family who is in this type of relationship let them know the harm of continuing to be in such a relationship. Most of us shy away from intervening in such situations because we are afraid of being intrusive or we are scared to lose a friend who might get offended by such intrusion.
  • But the reason why most people stay in such relationships is because they believe this is normal and acceptable or because they believe that things may improve with time, or because they believe they deserve it. In certain cases the abusive partner may be isolating the other partner and turning him/her against his/her friends in order to prevent access to outside help.
  • We cannot force anyone to end a relationship. But it is our duty to provide them with the necessary information to live a life with dignity.
  • If a situation makes us uncomfortable, we may try to dismiss it as not being a problem. You may tell yourself that the other person will be fine, that he or she is not as intoxicated as you think, or that the person is able to defend him/herself. This is not a solution! The person may need your help more than you think!
  • When in doubt, trust your instincts! When a situation makes us feel uncomfortable, it is generally a good indicator that something is wrong.
  • It is better to be wrong about the situation than do nothing.
  • However, intervention should not be done where such action will result in danger to the intervening person.
  • Speak to organizations that work on gender based violence and violence against women on possible ways to intervene. Service Providers
  • Speak to trusted family, friends, or individuals in the community.


How to intervene

There are a variety of ways to intervene. Some of them are direct, and some of them are less obvious to the perpetrator:

    • Making up an excuse to get her/him out of a potentially dangerous situation. Eg: Ring the Bell: Bring Domestic Violence to a Halt. Source:
    • Letting a friend or co-worker know that his or her actions may lead to serious consequences
    • Never leaving her/his side, despite the efforts of someone to get her/him alone or away from you
    • Using a group of friends to remind someone behaving inappropriately that his or her behaviour should be respectful
    • Calling the police or relevant authorities if needed




    • To record the information that is given in the language of the victim-survivor/informant, ensure that the informant reads and understands what is recorded and signs it.
    • If the officer is unable to record the information in the language of the victim-survivor/informant, the complaint can be made in writing.
    • If the victim-survivor/informant is unable to provide the information in writing, the offecer should record it in Sinhala or Tamil and read or explain it to the informant in a language that s/he understands before the record is signed.
    • Whatever information that is written down by the police officer must be read to the person providing the information and signed by the informant.
    • This information should be included in the Information Book without undue delay.
    • If the police officer who receives the information is not himself the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the police station, s/he has to report it to the OIC.



  • Learn effective intervention techniques!
  • Come up with a plan beforehand!
  • Talk to your friends about how they would want you to intervene if they are in an uncomfortable situation.
  • Choose the intervention strategy that is best for the situation.
  • Take a breath and make your move!
  • Usually, intervening in a group is safer than intervening individually.

You have the skills to act. There are many websites that offer tips on intervention, such as: Say Enough to Violence, and the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs,The Bystander Approach.


Redefining Masculinity
Consider whether messages about manhood like “don’t take no for an answer” play a role in creating unhealthy and unsafe relationships. Choose what kind of man you want to be. Be a positive role model.

Be a Good Communicator
Better communication in sexual situations — listening to the other person, stating desires clearly, and asking when a situation is unclear — will make relationships safer and healthier. Create a space to enthusiastically say yes.

Understand the Ability to Consent
Drugs and alcohol can affect people’s ability to decide whether they want to be sexual with someone. If a person is “really out of it” and can’t give consent, wait until you both are ready to enthusiastically say yes.

Get a Woman’s Perspective
Ask women how gender based violence affects their daily lives. Listen and learn from them about the impact of gender based violence and how to stop it. Think of a woman close to you, your mother, sister or daughter and put them in the place of the victim-survivor.

Ask Men
Ask men how it would feel to be seen as someone who does not respect women and how they would feel if a woman or girl in their life was subject to gender based violence. Learn about the ways sexual violence touches the lives of men.

Sexual Violence is not ‘cool’
We are surrounded daily by TV shows, music, magazines, video games, and movies that communicate messages about masculinity and relationships. Don’t let images in popular culture dictate your behaviour.

Choose Words Carefully
When you use words to put women down, you support the belief that they are less than fully human. It is easier to ignore women’s well-being when they are seen as inferior. Choose language that respects women.

Speak Out
You hear attitudes and witness behaviour that discriminate against women and promote a culture of violence. When your friend tells a joke that objectifies women, say you don’t find it funny. Use your voice.

Get Involved
Join a group working to prevent violence against women. Or, if there isn’t such a group, start your own. Make a difference.