How To Be An Effective Bystander

Whether you’re at a party, hanging out with friends in your dorm or at a bar, you have the power to prevent friends and peers from falling into situations of harm.

If you’re faced with a situation where you feel you might need to intervene, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the benefits of intervening in this situation? What are the costs? What are the costs of NOT intervening?
  • How would you feel if you were the victim in this situation? What would you be thinking? What would you want others to do for you?
  • How would you react if this was happening to a member of your family?
  • What does staying silent communicate in this situation?
  • What can you do to make the intervention safe and effective?



  • Step in directly and separate the persons involved.
  • If you feel comfortable, let them know your concerns and reasons for intervening in the situation.
  • Be a friend— let them know that you’re stepping in because you care about them.


  • Let some friends know what’s going on and recruit their help.
  • Step in as a group and separate the persons involved.


  • Use a distraction to re-direct the focus of one person elsewhere
  • Use phrases such as “Hey, I need to talk to you” or “Hey, let’s go somewhere else.”
  • If you need to, commit a “party foul” like spilling your drink on one of the people you’re trying to separate.


  • If the situation looks unsafe, call a chaperone, the Department of Public Safety or law enforcement for assistance.
  • Clearly let the authority figure know your concerns and stay present until help arrives.

Here are some illustrations of successful bystander intervention:

Situation: You’re at a bar, and one of your sorority sisters has had too much to drink. A man starts dancing with her and is about to lead her out, even though she doesn’t look coherent.

  • Intervention: You approach the couple and tell your sorority sister that you’d like to leave, and make sure she comes home with you.

Situation: While at an apartment party, you notice people being told to drink from a certain container. You overhear someone comment that the container contains something “special,” but you’re not sure what that means.

  • Intervention: You approach the party host and ask them what’s been mixed in the drink. When you find out it’s a high-content alcohol that’s designed to make people pass out without their knowledge, you tell them that they’re creating a dangerous situation for everyone at the party, and ask them to take the container away.

Situation: You’re hanging out with some of your fraternity brothers, and one of them mentions how he can’t wait for the party on Thursday night so that he can get some of your female friends “wasted” and have sex with as many of them as possible.

  • Intervention: You confront your fraternity brother and tell him that what he’s planning to do is not okay and is in fact against the law.

Situation: You see someone in your residence hall stumbling into the bathroom after a hard night of partying and they cannot stop throwing up.

  • Intervention: You stay with them in the bathroom until you determine that they are okay, and make sure they get back to their room safely. If they have alcohol poisoning, let the resident advisor know and accompany them to the emergency room straight away.