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Bystander Intervention and Risk Reduction

Bystander Intervention


Bystander intervention means safe and positive options that may be carried out by an individual or individuals to prevent harm or intervene when there is a risk of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking. Bystander intervention includes recognizing situations of potential harm, understanding institutional structures and cultural conditions that facilitate violence, overcoming barriers to intervening, identifying safe and effective intervention options, and taking action to intervene.

Bystanders play a critical role in the prevention of sexual and relationship violence. They are individuals who observe violence or witness the conditions that perpetuate violence. They are not directly involved but have the choice to intervene, speak up, and prevent and interrupt an incident. We want to promote a culture of community accountability where bystanders are actively engaged in the prevention of violence without causing further harm.

Darley and Latane, the forefathers of bystander intervention, identified five stages that people move through when taking action in a problematic situation, ​See,​ ​Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. These stages may not be linear.

Notice potentially problematic situations

Identify when it's appropriate to intervene

Recognize personal responsibility for intervention

  4. Know how to intervene

  5. Take action to intervene

There are a range of actions NYFA community members can take to intervene and help de-escalate potential acts of violence. Once a potential problem has been identified, the following actions can be used to safely intervene:

  1. Direct:​ ​Directly intervene and voice concern. For example, saying: “Are you okay?” “You look really upset.” “How can I help?”

  2. Distract:​ ​Do something to create a distraction that discontinues the harmful behavior. For example: Spill a drink, ask for directions, tell the abuser their car is being towed.

  3. Delegate: Ask for help and delegate the intervention to someone else.

Being an active bystander ​does not mean​ that personal safety should be compromised. There are a range of actions that are appropriate, depending on the individual intervening and the situation at hand. If safety is ever a concern, leave the situation and seek outside help (delegate) - that’s still bystander intervention!

Risk Reduction

To reduce the likelihood that an individual may become the victim of sexual violence, there are risk reduction actions one may consider. Risk reduction means options designated to decrease perpetration and bystander inaction, and to increase empowerment for victims in order to promote safety and to help individuals and communities address conditions that facilitate violence.

With no intent to victim blame and recognizing that only abusers are responsible for their abuse, the following are some strategies to reduce one’s risk of sexual assault or harassment (taken from Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, ​www.rainn.org):

  1. Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way to get out of a bad situation.

  2. Try to avoid isolated areas. It is more difficult to get help if no one is around.

  3. Walk with purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going, act like you do.

  4. Trust your instincts. If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably isn’t the
    best place to be.

  5. Try not to load yourself down with packages or bags as this can make you appear more

  6. Make sure your cell phone is with you and charged and that you have money for a taxi or

  7. Don't allow yourself to be isolated with someone you don’t trust or someone you don’t know.

  8. Avoid putting music headphones in both ears so that you can be more aware of your
    surroundings, especially if you are walking alone.

  9. When you go to a social gathering, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, check in with each
    other throughout the evening, and leave together. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way out of a bad situation.

  10. If you feel unsafe in any situation, trust your instincts. If you see something suspicious, contact
    law enforcement immediately (local authorities can be reached by calling 911 in most areas of the U.S.).

  11. Don't leave your drink unattended while talking, dancing, using the restroom, or making a phone call. If you’ve left your drink alone, just get a new one.

  12. Don't accept drinks from people you don't know or trust. If you choose to accept a drink, go with the person to the bar to order it, watch it being poured, and carry it yourself. At parties, don’t drink from punch bowls or other large, common open containers.

  13. Watch out for your friends, and vice versa. If a friend seems out of it, is too intoxicated, or is
    acting out of character, get your friend to a safe place immediately.

  14. If you suspect you or a friend has been drugged, contact law enforcement immediately (local
    authorities can be reached by calling 911 in most areas of the U.S.). Be explicit with doctors so
    they can give you the correct tests (you will need a urine test and possibly others).

  15. If you need to get out of an uncomfortable or scary situation here are some things that you can

    • Remember that being in this situation is not your fault. You did not do anything wrong, it
      is the person who is making you uncomfortable that is to blame.

    • Be true to yourself. Don't feel obligated to do anything you don't want to do. "I don't want
      to" is a good enough reason. Do what feels right to you and what you are comfortable with.

    • Have a code word with your friends or family so that if you don’t feel comfortable you can call them and communicate your discomfort without the person you are with knowing. Your friends or family can then come to get you or make up an excuse for you to leave.

    • Lie. If you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings it is better to lie and make up a reason to leave than to stay and be uncomfortable, scared, or worse. Some excuses you could use are: needing to take care of a friend or family member, not feeling well, having somewhere else that you need to be, etc.

  1. Try to think of an escape route. Consider answering these questions about your surroundings: How would you get out of the room? Where are the doors? Windows? Are there people around who might be able to help you? Is there an emergency phone nearby?

  2. If you and/or the other person have been drinking, you can say that you would rather wait until you both have your full judgment before doing anything you may regret later

Click here to file an online report or for more information on NYFA’s Title IX Grievance Policy & Procedure and Sexual Misconduct Policy.

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