Sexual violence is a community issue that can be prevented! Bystander intervention is one way that all community members can use their problem solving skills and creativity to positively impact the lives of their friends, neighbors, and loved ones.
What is a bystander?
A bystander is a person who is present during a potentially risky or dangerous situation and does nothing to stop it. They are not involved directly in the situation themselves.
What is the bystander approach?
The bystander approach offers practical strategies for addressing a problem when you see warning signs that may lead to violence. When you’ve had the chance to think through how you might handle a situation and you feel a sense of responsibility towards solving the problem, you are more likely to intervene safely.
Some common steps that you may walk through as a bystander include (1) observing a problem, (2) assessing the situation, (3) taking action to intervene, and (4) following up with the people involved. One way to follow up may be to call the Center’s help line for assistance.
Why do people stand by when witnessing a problem?
Whether witnessing a medical emergency, a car accident, a crime, or mistreatment of others, there are many reasons why people don’t intervene to help. I commonly hear folks say that they are concerned for their own safety, they think the situation is none of their business, or they aren’t sure exactly what is going on or how to help.
Why get involved, then?
There are many great reasons to get involved! Whether you get involved because you care about the people involved or you know what to do, many people say that they feel good when they are able to help others. We know that experiencing sexual harassment and sexual violence causes an array of health concerns and trauma, and if we can prevent this from happening in our community, why shouldn’t we?
You have to decide what motivates YOU to help others. We know that most people are good people, who are NOT violent towards others, so remember that there are others who will support you when you try to intervene in a situation. You are not alone!
What can I do?
We are all likely to see problematic or emergency situations at some point in our lives. In these situations as well as in our everyday lives, we can be more than a bystander:
- If you hear someone disrespect another, tell that person that is not okay and that their actions impact others.
- If you see someone encouraging drug or alcohol use or overuse, intervene and ask the aggressor to stop. Make sure the person who was targeted gets home safely.
- Call 911 if you see someone physically or sexually hurt another person.
- If a friend says they are being pressured for sexual contact by a dating partner or spouse, listen and believe them, and let them know that they have a right to feel emotionally, physically, and sexually safe in their relationship.
- Talk openly about healthy relationships and consent in an age-appropriate way.
- Role model healthy conflict resolution.
- Attend events or read literature on sexual violence and share what you learn with your community.
Kelli Raker is the Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator at UNC-Chapel Hill. Among other things, she coordinates One Act, a peer education program on preventing interpersonal violence, and Raise the Bar, an outreach and education program to local bars on alcohol and drug facilitated sexual assault.