What is Bystander Intervention?

More than 90% of sexual misconduct
is committed by someone the person knew.

60% of assaults occur in the home
of either the victim or the perpetrator.

In many of the circumstances that can lead to sexual assault, there’s a high probability that bystanders— friends, teammates, sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, or just everyday people who happen to be walking by— will witness something that doesn’t look quite right.

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

If you ever find yourself in a situation like the ones described above, take the initiative to step in and intervene. Although it can be awkward or inconvenient to confront a friend or peer, your action may remove a potential situation of harm, along with all of the resulting physical, emotional, academic and even criminal consequences for the people involved.

Here are the top reasons why bystanders often do not intervene when faced with a potentially risky situation:

  1. They are not positive about what is going on.
  2. They don’t think it is any of their business.
  3. They are afraid for their own safety or reputation.
  4. No one else seems to be concerned.
  5. They don’t really know what to do.

Instead, here are some things that you as an active bystander should keep in mind:

  • Be aware of comments and behaviors from others that would indicate they were intent on having sexual intercourse even if the partner was unwilling.
  • Notice if someone is getting ready to have sexual intercourse with a partner who is incapacitated.
  • Don’t pressure or encourage friends to drink or have sex as often or with as many people as possible.
  • Don’t joke about sexual assault; comments and jokes that are meant to “ease the tension” or are “just kidding around” can trivialize the severity of the behavior.
  • Know your level of comfort with conversations and talk about sexual behavior. If you find groups or individuals who talk about sexual relationships that are not in sync with how you feel, or the type of relationship you want, don’t be afraid to state your position.
  • Many perpetrators are unaware that what they have done is a crime. (They may say something like, “Yeah, that was messed up, but it was fun.”) Let them know that what they did was not right and was against the law.

Remember: we are all responsible for the well-being of our campus community.
If you see a situation that poses a risk for sexual or interpersonal misconduct,
step in and speak up!

Adapted from Step Up! Be A Leader, Make a Difference!,
University of Arizona C.A.T.S. Life Skills Program

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