George Mason University
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George Mason University

Bystander Intervention

Bystander Intervention: Helping Friends Stay Safe

Research shows that we are far less likely to help in an emergency situation when there are other people around. This is called “the bystander effect.” It’s up to you to be an active bystander: own your culture; take care of your friends.

One of the most important elements of bystander intervention as it relates to relationship violence, or situations that you think could become violent or dangerous, is to determine your comfort level in intervening, as well as being able to do so safely.

Steps to being a good bystander:

  • Notice an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence.
  • Evaluate with your head and your gut — is something wrong?
  • Ask yourself, "Could I play a role here?" If no one intervenes, what will likely happen?
  • Assess your options for offering help. What are the risks?
  • Intervene, or call someone else who can do so more effectively or safely.

Ways to intervene when something isn’t right:

  • Disrupt: If you're comfortable from a safe distance, talk to the people directly. Ask, "Excuse me, is everything alright here?" or, make eye contact with the person you are concerned for and ask them to go with you to the bathroom, ask them directly what’s going on, ask them if they are okay, or ask who they came with and how they’re getting home – this can be enough of a disruption to slow the situation. 
  • Distract: You can distract people by drawing their attention to something else, or indicating you are willing to call for assistance – spill something, bring out fresh food, start a conversation with the people about whom you are concerned.
  • Redirect: There are times when redirecting them might make more sense. Perhaps this is to an office that can offer assistance, or to the friends they arrived with to decelerate the situation.
  • Enlist help from someone with authority (e.g., bartender, security, an RA), or from the person’s friends.
  • Don’t leave. Be a witness.

If you're uncomfortable providing the intervention yourself, but have concern for one or both of the parties involved, and see no one else who is willing to get involved, please contact the police department. Describe what you are witnessing and where it is happening, so the police can send an officer out to see if the situation needs professional intervention.

CDE offers custom training on bystander intervention techniques and would be happy to design a program for your department or student organization.

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