Bystander Effect: Learn it, Teach About It, & Prevent It

A bystander is any person who is present at an event or incident but does NOT take part.

Bystander Intervention involves developing the awareness, skills, and courage needed to intervene in a situation when another individual needs help. Bystander intervention allows individuals to send powerful messages about what is acceptable and expected behavior in our community.

[5 Step Decision Making Model]

  1. Notice the Event
  2. Interpret the Event as a problem
  3. Take personal responsibility to intervene
  4. Decide how you are going to intervene
  5. Decide to Intervene

[Rules for Bystander Intervention]

Do NOT put yourself at risk.

Do NOT make the situation worse.

More TIPS:

  • Intervene at the earliest point possible
  • Look for early warning signs of trouble!
  • Intervening does not necessarily mean confronting
  • Ask for help!

[The 3 D’s of Bystander Intervention]

Direct – Directly intervening, in the moment, to prevent a problem situation from happening

Delegate – Seeking help from another individual, often someone who is authorized to represent others, such as a police officer or campus official.

Distract – Interrupting the situation without directly confronting the offender.

Bystander Intervention is a philosophy and strategy for prevention of various types of violence, including bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. With these resources, we hope that you are able to learn tactics to prevent  sexual assault and help create inclusiveness and equality.

Bystander Intervention is based on the fact that people make decisions and continue behaviors based on the reactions they get from others. For instance, commonly-asked questions in adult bystander intervention trainings are: Why don’t we pick our noses in public? or Why don’t we eat hot dogs for breakfast? The answer, once analyzed by the participants, tends to examine the expectations social interactions place on us, and the cultural conditioning and norms taught to us through subtle reactions from others. A question for secondary students might be: If you wore an outfit to school one day and no one said anything, but everyone made a horrified face at you, would you wear it again?

What makes this approach different from previous approaches to sexual assault prevention?

  • Discourages victim blaming
  • Offers the chance to change social norms
  • Shifts responsibility to both men and women

Why and How We Teach/Facilitate Bystander Intervention

Linda Langford for PreventConnect, 2012 In this podcast, Linda Langford discusses the ways that we teach bystander intervention. Addressing training and educational approaches to increasing abilities to intervene in violent situations may improve prevention efforts. This recording is based on a presentation Langford offered at the “Bystander Intervention: From Its Roots to the Road Ahead” Conference.

The idea that these social norm-shaping reactions to someone’s words or behavior could prevent violence is helpful only to the extent that the community realizes their power, notices the problem behaviors and attitudes, feels responsible, and has the skills to respond. Any one of us is a bystander any time we are interacting with others – we can either promote positive and healthy attitudes and behaviors, or harmful ones.

Theories associated with Bystander Intervention

Programs and curricula that promote Bystander Intervention

Exercises to explain Bystander Intervention

Bystander Research

Additional Resources:

Bystander Intervention in Spanish Speaking Communities:

PreventConnect Resources

Other Resources from the University of the West of England site for The Intervention Initiative: