Northwest College

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Prevention and Risk Reduction

Bystander Intervention

Bystander Intervention helps to create a campus environment where every member of our Northwest College community feels included, valued, and safe.

We ALL play a critical role in identifying situations that are potentially harmful, and we ALL play a role in intervening if something doesn't look or feel “right.” 

What is a Bystander?

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), a bystander is a person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. A bystander can become an active bystander (will get involved) or a passive bystander (will ignore the situation).

Bystanders might be present when sexual assault or abuse occurs, or they might witness the circumstances that could lead up to these crimes (RAINN, 2016).

Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect is the phenomenon in which someone is less likely to intervene in a problem situation when others are present.

The larger the number present, the less likely any of them will get involved.

Why Might People Resist Getting Involved? 

When faced with violence, people in a bystander role often describe feeling scared, alone, and afraid to say or do something. They express fearing making someone angry, possibly misunderstanding the situation, or triggering further violence (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Engaging Bystanders to Prevent Sexual Violence).

Bystander Intervention: 

The goal of bystander intervention is to change the behavior of the perpetrator and those who witness the potentially violent behavior BEFORE the act has been committed in the first place.

For example, stepping in or speaking up may give the person you are concerned about a chance to get to a safe place or leave the situation.

Often, when people consider stopping sexual violence, they usually think of intervening in individual acts of child abuse or rape. However, rarely is the individual act the only opportunity to intervene. Before the event of a rape, for example, there may be hundreds of little comments, harassment, and other behaviors or forms of abuse that lead up to what we think of as the sexually violence act. Early intervention is key. 

Check out this video from the University of Texas at Austin for students realizing something is "off" with a situation:

Ways to Intervene

Learning how to intervene in a way that fits the situation and your comfort level can help YOU become an active bystander. Your actions could help prevent someone from being a victim of sexual assault or other acts of violence. Consider applying any of the following intervention strategies from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN):

  • Create a Distraction: Cut off the conversation with a diversion, such as, “Let’s get pizza” or “This party is lame. Let’s go somewhere else.” Spill your drink or start an activity that draws other people in, including the person you are concerned about.
  •  Ask Directly: Talk directly to the person who might be in trouble. You could ask, “Would you like me to stay with you?”  or “Do you need help?”
  • Refer to an Authority: Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to refer to a person with more authority, such as a RA, campus security, an employee, or the police.
  • Enlist Others: Approaching a situation alone can be intimidating. Enlist another person or other people to support you. When it comes to expressing concern, there is power in numbers. For example, you could enlist a friend of the person you are concerned about. “Your friend looks like she’s had a lot of drink. Could you check on her?” Or you could ask others to join you when approaching the person at risk.

Be an active bystander. Step in and protect people who need help. Whether or not you are able to change the outcome, by stepping in, you are helping to change to way people think about their role in preventing sexual violence (RAINN, 2016).

More Information

For more information about bystander intervention and to see it in action, consider the following short clips:

It's Your Place: A Bystander Intervention Campaign at The College of Charleston

Who's Next? Bystander Intervention at Old Dominion University