York Region Transit anti-harassment campaign: interior bus cards

New campaign urges bystander intervention to stop harassment

Three years ago, we launched our first anti-harassment campaign for York Region Transit (YRT/Viva). 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 impressive results (not to mention an Ovation award).

York Region Transit anti-harassment ad 1

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.


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 Christian Lalonde.)

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


As always, we thank our entire client team at YRT/Viva for working with us to Change Marketing — for the better.

You can see the campaign in-market now on YRT/Viva buses, and at stops and terminals. As well as online.

Want to create social issues marketing that makes a real difference?

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