What is Bystander Intervention?

Bystander Intervention is a preventative approach used to interrupt potentially harmful situations, words, or actions. It involves individuals developing an awareness of a situation and assisting a person that may be in distress and/or at risk of being harmed. Bystanders then choose to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome. 

Active Bystanders are actively helping to build a safer campus community. 

Here are some situations that would require bystander intervention:

  • Someone telling an offensive comment such as a rape joke; sexist or misogynistic remark; or misgendering of transgender community members
  • A classmate or colleague behaving in a sexual manner that feels coercive, harassing, or is unwelcome in general
  • Seeing someone behaving in a way that exhibits possessiveness, extreme jealousy, and/or aggression
  • Seeing evidence of cyberstalking, cyber sexual harassment, or someone sharing someone else's personal information or photos
  • Observing others who exhibit intoxication and/or impaired judgement when engaged in sexual activity
  • If you see someone sexually assaulting another person

How Can You Intervene?

There are some steps that we can all take when deciding to intervene on someone's behalf. These steps will help us identify when an active bystander is needed and help us determine the best way to intervene. 

Step 1: Notice the Event
It is easy to miss something you are not looking for. Be aware - look, listen, and pay attention to your surroundings and what is going on around you. 
Tip: watch for emotional cues like crying, shouting, anger, or sadness

Step 2: Interpret It as a Problem
Once you see the event unfolding, consider if the situation necessitates intervention.
Tip: Ask yourself "Why is this occurring? Who might be harmed? Why?"

Step 3: Assume Personal Responsibility 
It can be hard to picture yourself intervening, especially when you do not know the people involved. Don't rationalize away responsibility. 
Tip: Ask yourself "Is there potential for good if I help? Could I play a role here?"

Step 4: Know How to Help
There is no perfect way to offer help, but there are some possible approaches. These approaches are expanded in the "What are Possible Ways to Intervene?" section below. 

Step 5: Implement the Help
Take action in whatever way you think is safe for you. Remember you are not there to solve the problem, but instead to interrupt a potentially harmful situation. 

What are Possible Ways to Intervene?

There are a variety of ways to intervene as a bystander to help on someone's behalf to make a situation safer. Bystanders can assess the situation to determine the safest way to intervene. 

When you hear someone making inappropriate sexual comments or touching someone without their consent, tell them directly to stop. Say "that sounds messed up", or "what you are doing is not okay, and you should stop". Other ideas for direct intervention:

    • Ask the person affected if they are OK
    • Tell the person behaving inappropriately that it isn't okay to talk to someone like that

Find a way to redirect the attention of someone who is behaving inappropriately. Say "excuse me, could you give me directions to the library?" Other ideas for distracting people include:

    • Spill a drink
    • Ask the person being affected if they can help you with something or assist in a task

Find someone else to intervene on your behalf. Alert campus security, College faculty or staff, other students, other bystanders, or the police. 

Check out the following videos to see examples of Bystander Intervention in action: