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Further resources on bystander behavior and sexual assault prevention

The “Bystander Effect”

Research has shown that several factors influence whether or not bystanders are likely to help a person in need.  People are more likely to step in if they can easily recognize that a situation is wrong, are directly asked to help, and witness others helping.  People are less likely to help in large group because everyone assumes someone else will step in. Check out this news clip from April 2010 to learn more about bystander behavior.


Bystander Experiments

These videos put bystanders to the test in several different situations.  What would you do?

Bystanders and Sexual Assault Prevention

This video shows how the silence of bystanders can allow for assault to happen.  It also shows a variety of techniques bystanders can use to prevent sexual assault.


Techniques for Intervention

Hopefully these videos give you a sense of how important it is for bystanders to speak out!  Here are some suggestions on how to intervene.  We encourage you to intervene in a way that feels comfortable to you.  Please call in professional bystanders, like the police, if ever you feel unsafe!

If you see a friend or a stranger in a situation that doesn’t seem right, you could:

  • Distract - redirect the focus elsewhere.  At a party for example, you could spill a drink, put on a popular song, or ask someone to take a picture. 
  • Separate - separate the people involved. You could ask someone to dance, ask your friend to come with you to the bathroom or to grab late night food.
  • Recruit - ask others for help.  You could recruit the help of your own friends or friends of the people who are involved in the situation.  This is especially helpful if you don’t really know the people involved.  Depending on the situation you may also want to recruit a professional bystander, like the police.


Derogatory language contributes to a culture of sexual violence.  A rape joke, for example, can minimize someone’s experience as well as normalize that type of behavior.  If you hear a friend use the word rape casually, or tell a homophobic, sexist, or racist joke, you could:

  •  Reframe - Respond as if you’re coming from a place of concern for that friend.  For instance, you might say something like “Hey, Tom, you might offend someone by telling that type of joke.  I just don’t want people to get a wrong impression of you.”
  • Use “I” statements- When using “I” statements, you want to state your feelings, name the behavior, and state how you want the person to respond.  This focuses on your feelings rather than on criticizing the other person.  “I feel really uncomfortable when you talk about hooking up with drunk girls.  I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t talk about that, at least in front of me.”