Research on the causes of sexual violence and evaluation of prevention efforts indicates that bystanders (also referred to as witnesses, defenders, or upstanders) are a key piece of prevention work. “Bystander Intervention” refers to safe and positive options that may be carried out by an individual or group of individuals to prevent harm or intervene when there is a risk that sexual misconduct/violence may occur. Bystander intervention includes recognizing situations of potential harm, understanding institutional structures and cultural conditions that facilitate sexual misconduct or violence, overcoming barriers to intervening, identifying safe and effective intervention options, and taking action to intervene.
Bystander intervention does not only refer to stopping sexual misconduct/violence in progress. It can also mean intervening early – at the first signs that there may be a problem. This may include recognizing and assisting someone who may be targeted for sexual assault or who may appear not to be thinking clearly.
Safety is the paramount concern for all involved in bystander intervention. This means ensuring your own safety as an intervener as well as attempting to maintain the safety of the person and other third parties. Safety is increased when intervention is attempted with a group rather than by an individual, especially if the intervention will involve discussion directly with the offender.
In some cases, it may be possible to intervene without communicating directly with the offender. The following are examples of ways in which a situation may be avoided without direct confrontation:
- Talk to a person to ensure he/she is okay.
- Make up an excuse to assist in getting the person away from the potential offender.
- Contact the police and seek assistance.
- Recommend to a bartender or party host that a person has had too much to drink or is acting inappropriately.
- Escorting a friend away from a risky situation.
If you feel that it is necessary to communicate directly with the offender, it is very important that you do so only if you believe it is safe for you to intervene in a nonviolent way. If you believe it would be safe to do so, it may be appropriate to tell the offender that the behavior is dangerous and does not appear to be welcome, and ask him or her to please stop the behavior.
Risk Reduction Strategies
If you become a victim of a crime, it is not your fault. Perpetrators, not victims, are responsible for sexual misconduct, sexual violence and other crimes. Despite this reality, there are actions everyone can take to increase safety:
- Make sure you have consent. Consent is a clear and freely given yes, not the absence of a no.
- Remember that people who are incapacitated by alcohol or drugs cannot give consent.
- Communicate your limits. If you are not ready engage in sexual activity then say “no.” Don’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do. “I don’t want to” is always a good enough reason.
- Back up your words with a strong voice and body language.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Being mindful of your location, the atmosphere and who else is present may help you avoid an uncomfortable situation.
- Avoid being alone with someone you don’t know or don’t trust.
- Try to avoid isolated or dark areas such as side streets or alleys.
- Try to avoid walking alone at night. Try to keep your cell phone charged and with you, and ensure that you have money for a cab if necessary. Remember that campus security is available to provide escorts.
- Listen to your intuition and instincts. If they say something is wrong, it probably is. Try to avoid or get out of the situation.
- Don’t be afraid to make a scene and stand up for yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to call campus security or the police.
- Remember, alcohol and drugs can impair your judgment and reactions. Be especially careful when you drink, and when you’re with someone who has been drinking. Watch out for friends who have been drinking.
- Watch your beverage at all times. Date rape drugs are tasteless, colorless and odorless. Until the effects are well under way, victims don’t know they have ingested drugs.
- When you go out to a party and/or to bars, go with a group of friends and look out for each other.
If you see someone who could be in trouble, speak up or call authorities.
Below are some informative videos to help educate and bring awareness to issues surrounding sexual misconduct and Title IX.
- Bystander Intervention: This video shows the importance of Bystander Intervention when there is a potential opportunity for an act of sexual misconduct to occur.
- Consent: This video provides a creative and educational approach on the importance of the concept of consent in sexual situations.
- Sexual Assault: This video highlights the "It's on Us" campaign; a national campaign to end sexual assault and violence.
- Title IX Info: This video provides a quick overview of ten facts that are important to know about Title IX.