People who witness racial abuse are being encouraged to carefully assess the situation before stepping in to help victims.

A viral video that shows a group of Asian tourists being abused on a Sydney bus has triggered a national debate, with Australians divided over how they would handle the situation as a bystander.

The University of Wollongong’s Director of Employment Equity and Diversity, Lynne Wright, says that deciding whether to assist a victim is up to the individual’s discretion.

“To actually step in and try and stop violence, particularly if it’s physical, can often lead to two victims, so it’s a very hard call,” says Ms Wright.

“It really depends on the level of the abuse and where it’s happening.

“If it was on the University campus, it’s a fairly closed environment and people might feel more empowered to step in.”

“But if it’s out on the street I would be encouraging people to use the resources around them; call for help and maintain a presence; don’t run away and leave the person.”

UOW students are strongly in favour of stepping in to assist victims of racial abuse.

Science/Psychology student Ilias Altsitsoglou says he wouldn’t be able to ignore a situation where a person is being vilified.

“I definitely wouldn’t like seeing it, so I’d try to intervene and stop the attacker. I’d tell them to calm down, but not in an aggressive way.”

Others are not as sure. Though he believes he would stand up to abuse, Journalism/International Studies student Andre Charadia believes that you can’t know how you will react until faced with the situation.

“I think because it’s so ‘in-your-face’ you have all these ideas about what you would do, but you don’t actually know how you’ll react in that position,” he says.

“I saw an incident on the bus, but I was actually quite shocked and didn’t quite know what to do.You hear stories of people standing up, but everyone on that bus was really uncomfortable and unsure how to react.”

“You might be the least racist person on the planet and still not react the way you think you would.”

While the majority of racial abuse that gains media attention is premeditated, Ms Wright says that reported cases are more often the result of careless remarks.

“In the majority of cases reported to me, the person who made the comment was just thoughtless and ignorant; I have only once felt that there was any conscious spite there, and that the things that were said were premeditated,” says Ms Wright.

“I’d encourage people to think carefully about what they say, because it can cause the victim to feel humiliated, intimidated or affronted.”