Resources that make an ImPACT

Bystander Intervention/Prevention

You will be a bystander. It could be at a party, when you notice two people headed upstairs. Person A is extremely intoxicated, Person B is not. Or earlier in the night, when you saw Person B giving drink after drink after drink to Person A.

Or maybe it’s in your dorm, when your friend makes that comment about what a (insert expletive here) his (girlfriend-friend-someone else) is and he’s staring at you, waiting for a reaction.

Or maybe it’s in the classroom, when someone comments that she "just got raped by that exam."

It can be difficult. You’re involved – but you’re not the target. These moments, which sometimes seem small or unimportant, can have an impact. You might be able to prevent sexual assault from occurring or even potentially work to change a culture that allows this type of violence to occur. But sometimes it can seem daunting, which is why it’s important to remember that big change is made through your response to those little moments. In other words, you don’t have to end sexual violence all by yourself and it isn’t going to happen all at once.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

Often, people have concerns about intervening in moments where they feel something is wrong. They may think that they just don’t have all the information, that no one will support them, or that there could be a safety risk in getting involved.

Bystander intervention means taking actions that make sense to you in that moment. This means trusting your gut – acknowledging when there is a remark or situation that is a problem to you and also recognizing what you are willing to do and not do. There is no perfect response, there is only the best response you can offer in the moment. The safety of both yourself and the victim is a priority and often times there is more than one thing you can do.

So What to Do?

Consider the situation as well as all your available options. You may choose to intervene directly or indirectly and you may choose to reach out to other friends and bystanders for support.

For example, think about the first scenario above, where someone is giving another person drink after drink and then taking that person to a secluded area. Some methods of bystander intervention would be:

  • Chat them up: talk to Person A and Person B throughout the night. If you notice Person B pushing drinks, you can make a comment like, “We still have a couple of hours to go…think we all might have to slow down” or “I think she’s had plenty.”
  • If Person A looks uncomfortable, help him/her by giving them an out. You might say he/she has a friend trying to get a hold of him/her on your cell phone or ask their friends to go over with some other kind of distraction.
  • You and other friends can follow them up the stairs and let them know you’re there to help. Tell Person A or Person B that their ride is leaving without them, that a buddy is trying to find them, or something else that would get them back downstairs.

What about if a friend is being derogatory about or aggressive towards someone in their life?

  • Think about your response – even an disapproving look sends a message.
  • Call them out – “Dude, you can be mad, but don’t talk about her that way” or “You seem to be pretty angry lately and I’m worried you’re hurting yourself and other people. Do you need my help?”
  • Set the tone – continue showing respect for the people around you and modeling good behaviors.

And what about those little comments?

Something you may hear more often than you realize are comments or jokes that undermine the severity of rape and sexual assault. Most of the time, people just aren’t thinking about the impact of their words. It’s something to consider though, especially since research indicates that 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males are sexually abused by age 18. That means that it’s very likely that there is someone (or multiple people) in your life that has been the victim of rape or sexual assault, even if he or she has never talked about it with you before. There are cultural implications of rape comments/jokes (which, if you want to learn more about this, you can – google “Why Shouldn’t I Use Rape Jokes” and you will find many insightful articles on the topic), but putting that aside, just keep one thing in mind – you can’t know the full story about the person sitting next to you, even if you know them well, so it’s helpful to consider the language you use before you use it and to address another person’s language if he/she is throwing around the word “rape” carelessly.

For more information on bystander intervention, visit our Resources page.

What if someone discloses to me that they were the victim of rape/sexual assault?

When you’re a proactive bystander and are informed about these issues, you may find that people in your life are more likely to disclose victimization to you. For information about how to respond, see What To Do If Someone I Know Has Been Sexually Assaulted.

You are part of the campus community, so make sure you’re connected with your own institution’s programs and resources. Look to your campus sex offense policy to understand your campus processes and options. Find out who is doing sexual assault prevention education on campus and how you can get involved. Whether you’re an athlete, part of a student group, or play another role at your college or university, remember that you’re a leader, which means that you can set an example and get others engaged in prevention, as well.

Your institution has started the conversation.

You are part of the campus community, so make sure you’re connected with your own institution’s programs and resources. Look to your campus sex offense policy to understand your campus processes and options. Find out who is doing sexual assault prevention education on campus and how you can get involved. Whether you’re an athlete, part of a student group, or play another role at your college or university, remember that you’re a leader, which means that you can set an example and get others engaged in prevention, as well.