Dr Anna Barker organises active bystander training for park staff to increase women's safety

Parks staff and volunteers in West Yorkshire are being trained to intervene when they spot cases of discrimination, harassment or bullying in public spaces

Bystander training for people who work in these areas follows research by Dr Anna Barker and funded by the Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, which concluded that most women and girls feel unsafe in parks in some situations.

The aim of the training is to create a community of active bystanders in West Yorkshire who feel confident and have the knowledge about how to intervene safely if they see harassment taking place in a park or open space.    

Everyone's got a responsibility for women’s safety and this training can teach them how to intervene without escalating the situation and putting themselves in danger.

Dr Anna Barker

The initiative has been organised by Dr Anna Barker who led the original research, along with West Yorkshire Combined AuthorityKeep Britain Tidy and personal safety, stalking and harassment charity the Suzy Lamplugh Trust

Park rangers, conservation volunteers and event organisers have already taken part in pilot training sessions for 80 participants, with the hope that further sessions could be offered in West Yorkshire and beyond. Several park departments outside of Yorkshire have already expressed an interest.

Dr Anna Barker said that the women who were interviewed for her research agreed that it did not feel safe to challenge harassment when it happened to them, nor were they confident that someone else would intervene on their behalf:

Women and girls felt that it was safer to ignore than challenge unwanted comments and attention in parks, to avoid escalation and unsafe situations. Yet, leaving male harassment unchallenged perpetuates injustice and doesn’t change the status quo… So that means we all need to look out for each other, whether that's the park manager, the volunteer, another park user, the person who works in the ice cream van, the personal trainer, the dog walker – everyone's got a responsibility for women’s safety and this training can teach them how to intervene without escalating the situation and putting themselves in danger.

Safer parks

Bystander training helps individuals to recognise a potentially harmful situation or interaction and gives them the skills to safely respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome. It is one of the recommendations in the Safer Parks national guidance which was published last May as a result of Dr Barker’s research. 

The free Stand Up Against Street Harassment training uses the principle of the 5Ds – Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct – which are methods a person can use to support someone who’s being harassed. They are designed to prioritise safety and not to escalate situations, with four of them using indirect methods of intervention.

  • Distraction: Ignore the person who is harassing and engage directly with the person who is being harassed. Don’t talk about or refer to the harassment that’s happening. Instead, talk about something completely unrelated. Pretend to be lost and ask the person being harassed to give you directions. Ask them for the time. Pretend you know the person being harassed and act excited to have ‘randomly’ run into them.
  • Delegation is asking a third party for help with intervening in harassment. Look for a Delegate who is ready and willing to help. Often, a great choice is the person right next to you. In public places, your Delegate could be someone who has authority in the space.
  • Document: Documentation involves either recording or taking notes on an instance of harassment. If someone else is already helping out: assess your own safety, and if you are safe, begin documenting.
  • Delay: Once the event is over, asking them if they’re okay, and let them know you saw what happened and it wasn’t okay. Ask them if there’s any way you can support them. If you’ve documented the incident, ask them if they want you to give them the documentation.
  • Direct intervention: to be used with caution once you have established that you and the person being harassed are physically safe and the situation won’t escalate. 

Rachel Winstanley from the Wakefield Music Collective – a voluntary organisation headed up by women who put on free events in the city’s Clarence Park – attended the training.

She says:

The training has given me a lot more confidence to enable me to approach situations which I feel aren’t right and to be able to step in and use the 5Ds. All the ideas we were given at the training will be fantastic help in the future.

Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Alison Lowe OBE added:

It is unacceptable that so many women and girls we have spoken to do not feel safe in parks, which is why we’ve led on this pioneering work across West Yorkshire and beyond. By listening to women who use parks, as well as those who are too scared to use them, we put forward key recommendations about how to make these spaces safer. Rolling out this training to create a community of active bystanders is just one example of how we’re working together with our partners to make West Yorkshire a safer, fairer place to live and work.

Public harassment

According to research by L’Oréal Paris and IPSOS between 2019–2021, some 80% of women in the UK have reported experiencing harassment in public spaces, and 75% of harassment victims said no one helped.

Emma Lingley-Clark, the Interim CEO of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust said:

 Everyone has the right to be safe. But as our research finds, a shocking number of people – disproportionately women – are experiencing harassment in public spaces, which is unacceptable. Stand Up Against Street Harassment bystander intervention training aims to address the prevalence of public harassment. Working with L'Oreal Paris through Stand Up, we aim to equip everyone with tools to tackle public harassment. Bystanders can play an important role in supporting victims, helping them feel, and be, safer and we welcome this opportunity to bring our training to individuals who work in and use our parks and open spaces.

Further information

Dr Barker is Associate Professor in Criminal Justice & Criminology, and is a member of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies and the Centre for Law and Social Justice.

Listen to Dr Barker speak about safety in parks on the University of Leeds How to Fix podcast, learn about the art project based on her research, and read about the bystander training on the BBC.

Photo by Victor De Jesus

For media enquiries, please contact Kersti Mitchell in the University of Leeds press office via k.mitchell@leeds.co.uk