Practicing Active Bystander Intervention

Everyone has a role to play in preventing sexual assault and there are many different ways you can step up to make a difference, notably through bystander intervention. An active bystander is someone who interrupts a potentially harmful situation, especially when it comes to sexual violence. They may not be directly involved but they do have the choice and opportunity to speak up and intervene.

We can all be bystanders at any point. Every day events and potentially unsafe situations unfold around us at an alarming rate. In these situations, you can play an important role in addressing interpersonal violence on and off campus. There may be many situations that happen that require you to intervene and act accordingly. Taking action and interfering safely is an essential skill. Stepping in can make all the difference, but it should never put your own safety at risk.

Below are ways you can be an effective, active bystander without posing risk to yourself.

Create a Distraction

Distracting is a subtle and innovative way of intervening. The purpose of distraction is to interrupt the incident, safely, by communicating with the individual at risk and giving them an opportunity to safely exit the potentially dangerous situation. Try creating a distraction as early as possible.

This technique can be used to de-escalate the situation and re-direct the attention of the aggressor or the individual at risk to something else. For example, creating a conversation with the individual at risk is helpful. At this moment, make sure not to leave them alone. This technique can be used to dilute the tension before it escalates to further danger.

Other ideas include:

  • 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

Asking directly to the individual at risk can help you determine if an action needs to be taken immediately to ensure a safe environment. You can address the individual at risk directly.You can ask the following, “Do you need help?” or “Would you like me to stay with you?” or “Would you like to get out of here and go somewhere safe?”

Make sure to ask the question when the perpetrator is not listening or nearby in order to de-escalate the situation from turning into a crisis. Asking them if they need any support or assistance at the moment can help you determine if an authority needs to be contacted. If the answer is yes, proceed to contact a safe emergency personnel.

Rally Others

It can be intimidating to approach a situation alone. If you need to, 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?”

Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to enlist an authority figure like a resident assistant, bartender, bouncer, or security guard. This option will allow you to have others on your side and can offer additional safety from the perpetrator.

If the situation has escalated and involves imminent danger and actual harm, the best intervention technique that can be used is to call 9-1-1. When calling, be prepared to identify yourself, your location, and the nature of the situation. Be sure to stay present when help arrives and near the individual that was harmed. Remain calm, friendly, and supportive.

Extend Support

After experiencing such a situation, the individual at risk may feel panicked and be unsure about what to do next. Extending a helping hand and empathetic ear can make a huge difference. Offer them appropriate resources and options for how you can support them. You can ask: “Do you want me to walk with you to your destination?” or “Is there anything I can do to support you?” or “Would you like resources for support and guidance following this incident?”

If they want resources, you can extend contact numbers of your campus’ health, student support, and advocacy centers. You can also share the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656-HOPE (4673) or; it’s free, confidential, and available 24/7. Extending support is an important part of bystander intervention because it allows the individual at risk to heal and connect with a supportive community for recovery and restoration.

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. If you suspect that someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are steps you can take to support that person and show you care. You can learn more at

To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at


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