What Being an Upstander Means

What Being an Upstander Means

For Girls Inc. Week we stand up and take action against sexual harassment and violence

Each May, Girls Inc. highlights an important issue impacting the lives of girls during Girls Inc. Week, a week focused on activism and engagement. This year, in line with our #GirlsToo: Respect Starts Young campaign (click on the link to learn more about the movement and pledge to stand with us!) we are highlighting how each of us has a role to play in responding to and preventing sexual harassment. As part of Girls Inc. Week 2019, we encourage people everywhere to be an upstander! When we decide to #BeUpstanding with the goal of empowering everyday individuals we become a crucial part of the solution.

An Upstander Faces Reality

Sexual harassment and violence is an epidemic that starts young. About seven in 10 girls experience sexual harassment at some point in high school, and one in four girls will experience sexual violence before she turns 18. Sexual harassment and violence have a lasting impact on young people, affecting their physical and mental health as well as their ability to do well in school.

Consider these scenarios. You notice a couple fighting outside a store or in a park you frequent. As you walk by you hear one person say to the other, “Why do you have to be so stupid? You are so worthless!” You then see the other person walk away in tears.

Or, you overhear a colleague or classmate comment on a sexual assault making headlines saying, “She got what was coming to her.”

What Is an Upstander?

An upstander is someone who witnesses problematic language or behavior between people, either in person or online, and decides to do something about it. Research points to the fact that we are less likely to intervene in an urgent or emergency situation when others are present versus when we are alone. We tend to assume that someone else will address the problem. But what if no one else does? For many upstanders, this is the question that drives them to act. And when we do, it gives others permission to do the same.      

Being an upstander means finding your courage
Many instances of harassment and violence occur in the presence of bystanders. Every situation is different and your own personal safety must be considered when intervening. However, there are so many occasions and opportunities where being an upstander can make a big difference.

What do you do as an Upstander?

Consider the fight scenario I described above. Are you a bystander who does nothing or do you become an upstander? Let’s think through what you can do to feel comfortable being an upstander and all that it means.

  1. Perhaps you could ask the person who is upset if they need help and letting them know they don’t deserve to be treated that way.
  2. As for the other example, never underestimate the power of calling out problematic attitudes with a simple, “Not cool.”

If a person is exerting power or control over another person in some way, is pressuring someone to do something they may not be comfortable with, or is saying things about a person online or in person that are unwelcome or inappropriate, those may all be opportunities for an upstander to step up and help shift the course of the situation.

Let’s send a message to girls everywhere that we care and that together we can create a community where girls and all young people are safe, respected, and valued. Start today as an upstander by taking the #GirlsToo pledge at girlstoo.girlsinc.org.  

And explore the resources Girls Inc. wants to put in your hands so that you continue to stay educated and aware surrounding issues of bullying, harassment, and sexual violence.