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Transit anti-harassment campaign focuses on bystander intervention

Transit anti-harassment campaign focuses on bystander intervention

Note: This is my own work, so I’m sharing it here simply as an example of a social marketing strategy. Feel free to critique it in the comments. (Reposted in edited form from our agency blog, Change Marketing.)

Three years ago, we launched our first anti-harassment campaign for York Region Transit. (York Region  is part of the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada.) Designed to make riders aware of the many ways harassment can occur, as well as to let them know about enhanced onboard security enforcement, that campaign delivered measurable results.

York Region Transit Transit anti-harassment campaign focuses on bystander intervention

This year, we evolved the message to incorporate the social marketing concept of bystander intervention. The objective is to overcome people’s natural resistance to help strangers in distress (as sad as that may sound).

Here’s an explanation from Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response:

Research has found that people tend to struggle with whether helping out is their responsibility and one of the major obstacles to intervention is something called diffusion of responsibility — which means that if several people are present, an individual is much less likely to step up and help out because he/she believes someone else will. Other major reasons that bystanders fail to intervene are that the situation is too ambiguous, that the bystander is worried about misjudging the situation and thus will be embarrassed by intervening, or that the bystander believes the victim is in some way responsible for the situation and is thus, getting what they deserve.

Bystander Intervention programs teach people to overcome their resistance to checking in and helping out. These programs have been found to be very helpful on college campuses to thwart sexual assault, abusive alcohol consumption, dorm damage, and concerns about suicide, depression and eating disorders.

York Region Transit Transit anti-harassment campaign focuses on bystander intervention

It’s not our first bystander intervention campaign. Five years ago, our “Change The Conversation” campaign, with Beer Canada and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, encouraged peers to speak out against drunk driving.

In tackling this issue for YRT/Viva, we aimed to understand and empathize with the bystander. The Art Director, Kerry Hodgson, had the key insight that bystanders are also feeling distressed. They’re confused, embarrassed, and even feeling helpless. She visualized this mindscape with questions and statements scrawled around the bystander’s head. (With great portraiture by Ottawa photographer Christian Lalonde.)

The campaign also tackled the issue of drivers being harassed, which is the subject of  a new Canadian law that was passed last year after lobbying by the Canadian Urban Transit Association and the Amalgamated Transit Union.

York Region Transit Transit anti-harassment campaign focuses on bystander intervention


I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency.
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