Harper College

Bystander Intervention

Every person has a role in stopping sexual violence from occurring on our campus and in society. If you observe a concerning situation, you may have the ability to intervene in a safe and positive way to change the outcome of a situation. A key goal of bystander intervention is to step in early – before the situation escalates to violence.  These are the basic steps of bystander intervention in the form of taking action:

Notice what is happening.

The first step in bystander intervention is being attentive to what is happening around you. This is especially important in high-risk situations, such as large parties, where alcohol is present, at concerts/bars with loud noise or in other environments that might otherwise perpetuate high-risk behaviors. If you are in a larger group or with friends, it is often easy to assume that if no one else thinks there is a problem, then maybe there isn’t. Instead, be willing to be the one to pay attention and to think for yourself as to whether or not an intervention can be helpful.

Consider whether the situation warrants your action.

Even situations that don’t seem serious may benefit from your action. The goal is to intervene well before there is a problem, not once a violent act has started. For example, if you notice a friend who is drinking a lot of alcohol, raising his voice, and saying he wants to “get laid, no matter what”, this could be an indication of high risk behaviors. If you hear someone yell or you see someone who is intoxicated and being hit on by someone else, you might be able to step in.

Decide if you have a responsibility to act.

You might have formal responsibility to act (such as if you are a team captain or if you are a student leader), or you might have informal responsibility to act (such as if others look to you as a role model, or if you are often the leading voice in your friend group). As an individual and member of our campus community, you also have a responsibility to act with integrity and to look out for fellow people, regardless of how good of friends you are.

Choose what form of action/assistance to use.

Forms of assistance can vary depending on the situation. Examples include:

  • Stepping in directly and engaging both parties
  • Separating the individuals
  • Calling an authority
  • Getting help from other friends
  • Diverting someone from the situation
  • Creating a distraction
  • Changing the subject

Implement the intervention safely.

Ultimately you have to intervene in a safe way so that further threats do not occur, and so that any safety concerns are minimized. You might have an initial intervention followed by a follow-up conversation later after any feelings have calmed down. This is also why it is important to step in through conversations early, rather than having to look to more intrusive action if a situation escalates.

(Source: Adopted from Darley and Latane,1968)

Education and Resources

Last Updated: 12/14/23