SVCC's COVID-19 Information Page
Help students impacted by the crisis. Give Today
Sauk Makes it Possible — You Make it Happen

Bystander Strategies

Steps You Can Take to Prevent Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault

  • Everyone has a role to play in prevention. There are many different ways that you can step in or make a difference if you see someone at risk.
  • The key to keeping others safe is learning how to intervene in a way that fits the situation and your comfort level. Having this knowledge on hand can give you the confidence to step in when something isn't right. Speaking up can make all the difference, but it should never put your own safety at risk.

Your Role in Preventing Sexual Assault

  • The only person responsible for committing sexual assault is a perpetrator, but all of us have the ability to look out for each other’s safety. Whether it’s giving someone a safe ride home from a party or directly confronting a person who is engaging in threatening behavior, anyone can help prevent sexual violence.

What is a bystander?

  • A bystander is a person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. Bystanders might be present when sexual assault or abuse occurs—or they could witness the circumstances that lead up to these crimes.
  • On average there are over 293,000 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the U.S. The majority of these crimes are committed by someone the victim knows. Given these circumstances, it’s important to recognize the role bystanders can play in preventing crimes like sexual assault.

What can I do to prevent sexual assault?

  • You may have heard the term “bystander intervention” to describe a situation where someone who isn’t directly involved steps in to change the outcome. Stepping in may give the person you’re concerned about a chance to get to a safe place or leave the situation. You don’t have to be a hero or even stand out from the crowd to make a big difference in someone’s life. Take steps to protect someone who may be at risk in a way that fits your comfort level.
  • Whether you’re taking home a friend who has had too much to drink, explaining that a rape joke isn’t funny, or getting security involved when someone is behaving aggressively, choosing to step in can impact the way those around you think about and respond to sexual violence.

Why don’t people help more often?

  • It’s not always easy to step in, even if you know it’s the right thing to do. Some common reasons bystanders remain on the sidelines include:
    • “I don’t know what to do or what to say.”
    • “I don’t want to cause a scene.”
    • “It’s not my business.”
    • “I don’t want my friend mad at me.”
    • “I’m sure someone else will step in.”
  • It is okay to have these thoughts, but it is important to realize that your actions can have a big impact. In many situations, bystanders have the opportunity to prevent crimes like sexual assault from happening in the first place.

Your actions matter.

  • Whether or not you were able to change the outcome, by stepping in you are helping to change the way people think about their role in preventing sexual assault/violence. If you suspect that someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are steps you can take to support that person. Here are a few ways to Speak Up [C.A.R.E]:
    1. Create a distraction
    2. Ask directly
    3. Refer to an authority
    4. Enlist others

Do what you can to interrupt the situation. A distraction can give the person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.

  • Cut off the conversation with a diversion like, "Let's get pizza, I'm starving," or "This party is lame. Let's try somewhere else."
  • Bring out fresh food or drinks and offer them to everyone at the party, including the people you are concerned about.
  • Start an activity that draws other people in, like a game, a debate, or a dance party.

Ask directly.

  • Talk directly to the person who might be in trouble.
  • Ask questions like, "Who did you come here with?" or "Would you like me to stay with you?"

Refer to an authority.

Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to refer to a neutral party with the authority to change the situation, like an RA or the management staff of your local hangout.

  • Talk to a security guard, bartender, or another employee about your concerns. It's in their best interest to ensure that their patrons are safe, and they will usually be willing to step in.
  • Don't hesitate to call 911 if you are concerned for someone else's safety.

Enlist others.

It can be intimidating to approach a situation alone. Enlist another person to support you.

  • Ask someone to come with you to approach the person at risk. When it comes to expressing concern, sometimes there is power in numbers.
  • Ask someone to intervene in your place. For example, you could ask someone who knows the person at risk to escort them to the bathroom.
  • Enlist the friend of the person you're concerned about, "Your friend looks like they've had a lot to drink. Can you check on them?"

Source: Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)