Be a helpful bystander

The only person responsible for committing acts which are concerning, threatening, or inappropriate behaviour, including sexual assault, is the perpetrator; but all of us have the ability to look out for each other’s safety. Whether it is giving someone a safe ride home from a party or directly confronting a person who is engaging in threatening behaviour, anyone can help prevent forms of violence.

Bystanders can help

A bystander is a person who is present when an incident takes place but isn’t directly involved. Bystanders might be present when violence or sexual assault occurs, or they could witness the circumstances that led up to these crimes. It is important to know what you can do to prevent crimes like sexual assault.

Prevent violence or sexual assault

The term ‘bystander intervention’ is used to describe a situation where someone who isn’t directly involved steps in to change the outcome. Stepping in may give the person you’re concerned about a chance to get to a safe place or leave the situation. You don’t have to be a hero or even stand out from the crowd to make a big difference in someone’s life.

Take steps to protect someone who may be at risk in a way that fits your comfort level.

Four steps to prevent an incident

  1. Create a distraction
    • Do what you can to interrupt the situation. A distraction can give the person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.
    • 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.
  2. Ask directly
    • Talk directly to the person who might be in trouble.
    • Ask questions like “Who did you come here with?” or “Would you like me to stay with you?”
  3. Refer to an authority
    • Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to refer to a neutral party with the authority to change the situation, like a Residential Advisor or security guard.
    • Talk to a security guard, bartender, or another employee about your concerns. It’s in their best interest to ensure that their patrons are safe, and they will usually be willing to step in.
    • If the concerning behaviour is occurring on University property, call Security.
    • Don’t hesitate to call 000 if you are concerned for someone else’s safety.
  4. Enlist others

It can be intimidating to approach a situation alone.

  • 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?”

Your actions matter

Whether or not you were able to change the outcome of the situation, by stepping in you are helping change the way people think about their roles in preventing violence and sexual assault.