Guidance for Bystanders Affected by Sexual Misconduct

Over 80% of health care professionals have witnessed sexual misconduct in the workplace. Those who see sexual misconduct may feel uncomfortable themselves, they may feel uncertain as to how they may intervene or feel guilty if they take no action. They may come over time to view the behaviour as normalised within their work environment and risk becoming perpetrators themselves.



The GMC defines Sexual misconduct as uninvited or unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature, or which can reasonably be interpreted as sexual, that offends, embarrasses, harms, humiliates or intimidates an individual or group. [1]

  • Does someone looks uncomfortable,upset or frightened?
  • What about their body language – are they trying to move away?
  • Perhaps your colleague’s jokes are not received as “banter” by the whole of their audience.
  • Do they really want to be having that intense one to one conversation?
  • Do members of your team seem to be avoiding each other?



Listen to what is being said. Offer a confidential listening ear. Do not rush to judgement.

  • Let them know that what has happened to them isn’t their fault.
  • Affirm that they didn’t do anything wrong.
  • Express your support for the individual.
    • I saw what they just did. Are you OK?
    • I heard what that person said to you. I am so sorry.



There are many ways you can support someone who is the target of sexual misconduct. Simply taking time to listen will be hugely valued. Intervene if you are able and it feels safe. Signpost to the resources listed.


1. Rape Crisis England and Wales - A service for anyone who has been affected by rape, child sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment or any other form of sexual violence – at any point in their life.

Helpline: 0808 500 2222 


2. Rape Crisis Scotland -  Helpline for anyone over 13 who has experienced sexual violence, no matter when or how it happened. Sexual harassment, whether at work or elsewhere, is a form of sexual violence.

Helpline: 08088 010302 | Particularly useful booklet on sexual harassment in the workplace [2]


3. Rape Crisis Northern Ireland - A support service for anyone who is 18 and over and has experienced serious sexual assault and rape in adulthood.

Helpline: 0800 0246 991


4. British Medical Association - Free and confidential 24/7 counselling line and peer support service open to all doctors and medical students.

Helpline: 0330 123 1245  


5. Sexual Assault Referral Centres - Offer medical, practical and emotional support to anyone who has been raped, sexually assaulted or abused within the last 12 month.


6. The Samaritans - You don’t have to feel suicidal to get in touch. Only 1 person in 5 who calls Samaritans says that they feel suicidal.

Helpline: 116 123 


7. Deanery - Your TPD or Head of School will offer confidential, non-judgmental practical support and signpost you to service that will help to support you such as Professional Support and Wellbeing Services.



The most important way we can all reduce the risk and harm of sexual misconduct is to act appropriately if we witness poor behaviours. It can feel uncomfortable calling out the poor behaviour of a colleague but there are many options. [3]

Confront the harasser.

Whether or not you know the harasser, you can intervene by telling them in a respectful, direct, and honest way that their words or actions are not okay. For example, when you hear someone make comments that blame victims for being assaulted, or make light of sexual violence, you can tell them:

  • You need to stop.
  • That’s so inappropriate.
  • What you just said made me feel uncomfortable. Here’s why...
  • Do you realize how problematic that is?
  • We need to talk about what you just said.
  • Why would you say that?
Set the expectation to speak up and step in.

Talking openly and responding directly to inappropriate behaviours will have a snowball effect and encourage others to respond. It shows you recognize the comment or behaviour is unacceptable and shows others it will not be tolerated. For example, if you are in a group setting and you hear someone make inappropriate comments, you can say:

  • Are you hearing what I am hearing?
  • I can’t be the only one who thinks this is not OK.
  • I don’t see how XYZ is relevant or appropriate to this discussion.
  • I know you’re a better person than that.
Disrupt the situation.

Every situation is different, and there is no one way to respond. When you witness a person being harassed, threatened, or followed by someone, you can try to distract the harasser or insert yourself into their interaction to help the targeted person get out of the situation. For example, if you see someone on the street being verbally harassed, you can interrupt the harasser and ask them for directions. You can also intervene by pretending to know the person being harassed and starting a conversation with them as an opportunity to come between them and the harasser.

If you feel someone is in danger you may need to involve the police. If you feel a perpetrator is likely to present a danger to other colleagues or the public you may need to involve HR or the regulator.

Reference Links:

[1] General Medical Council (2024) Identifying and Tackling Sexual Misconduct. Available at: Accessed: 09.12.2023

[2] Rape Crisis Scotland (2015) Information and support for anyone experiencing sexual violence and harassment in the workplace. Available at: Accessed: 09.12.2023

[3] National Sexual Violence Resource Center (2018) NSVRC Tip Sheet, Bystander Intervention Tips and Strategies. Available at:

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