Bystander Intervention

As a community, it is each of our responsibility to step up to prevent sexual or dating violence and assist those affected by these behaviors before, during, or after an incident. If you witness these situations unfolding, or if someone comes to you for help, there are many ways that you can have a positive impact.

In order to intervene, first someone has to:

1. Notice the incident

Bystanders must first notice an incident is taking place. It's important to become familiar with what situations may be risky; i.e., if you're at a party, and you see someone stumbling as they're being led into a different room, this is a risky situation.

2. Interpret the incident as emergency

By "emergency," we mean a situation where there is a risk of sexual or domestic or dating violence occurring in the near future.

3. Assume responsibility for intervening

It has been found that often, people believe that someone else will help in a situation where there are many people around. However, it is important to realize that others may also be thinking the same thing. If you're unsure if you should do something, ask a friend what they think -- it might be the case that they've been thinking the same thing.

4. Have the bystander intervention skills to help

There are a number of different techniques that someone can use to intervene in a risky situation, some of which we've listed below.

How Do I Intervene?

First and foremost, your safety is of the utmost concern. When a situation threatens physical harm to you or someone else, ask for help or contact the YSU Police Department at 330.941.3527 or dial 911.

1. Direct: Step in and address the situation directly. This might look like saying, "That's not cool. Please stop." or "Hey, leave them alone." This technique tends to work better when the person that you're trying to stop is someone that knows and trusts you. It does not work well when drugs or alcohol are being used because someone's ability to have a conversation with you about what is going on may be impaired, and they are more likely to become defensive.

2. Distract: Distract either person in the situation. This might look like saying, "Hey, aren't you in my Spanish class?" or "Who wants to go get pizza at UPie?" This technique is especially useful when drugs or alcohol are being used because people under the influence are more easily distracted then those that are sober.

3. Delegate: Find others who can help you to intervene in the situation. This might look like asking a friend to distract one person in the situation while you distract the other ("splitting" or "defensive split"), asking someone to go sit with them and talk, or going and starting a dance party right in the middle of their conversation. If you don’t know either person you could also ask around to see if someone else knows them, or one of them, and see if they will check in with them. See if they can go talk to their friend, text their friend to check in, or intervene.

(Adapted from Vassar College Sexual Assault & Violence Prevention)

When you intervene, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do so alone. Research has shown that 70% of YSU students would be willing to intervene (Haven Online Prevention Program, Fall 2014). Additionally, if you are in doubt, there is no harm in asking the person “Are you okay?” so you can get more information and see how you’re best able to help them.


It can be a very challenging experience when someone discloses a sexual assault; however, knowing how to be supportive can be crucial in a survivor’s healing process. There are two things you need to think about: how you can support the survivor, and how you can take care of yourself.

How You Can Support the Survivor

Believe the survivor: Know that revealing this experience takes a great deal of strength and courage. Remember that NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ASSAULTED. Remind the survivor that the assault was not their fault. Let the survivor know that you believe them.

Be respectful of privacy and confidentiality: Don’t tell anyone about the assault without the survivor’s permission. The survivor has chosen to tell you and it may be hurtful or dangerous to tell others.

Provide options: There are several things a survivor may want to think about: seeking counseling, obtaining medical attention, preserving evidence, or reporting to the police. You can provide information and options for the survivor, but always let the survivor make their own decisions. Many survivors feel a deep sense of disempowerment as a result of being violated. Therefore it is important to help the survivor feel empowered. Instead of taking

charge, ask how you can help. Offer to accompany the survivor to seek medical attention or to go the police if they want to do so. Support the decisions the survivor makes, even if you might not agree with them. This may include physical space. Some may want a hug, and for others this may be invasive. Follow their lead.

Be aware of your desire to provide reassurance: Saying things like “everything is going to be all right” or “it could have been worse,” may seem supportive, however, the survivor may interpret these reassurances to mean that you don’t understand their feelings, or that you are trivializing the magnitude of what they have experienced. Instead you might say, "I'm sorry this happened,” or “How can I be helpful?”

Be a good listener: Recovering from a sexual assault can take a long time. The survivor may need your support now and in the future. Let the survivor choose when they want to talk and how much they want to share. Sometimes the survivor may not want to talk at all. When the survivor does choose to talk to you, these are things to keep in mind:

DO concentrate on understanding the survivor’s feelings.

DO allow silences.

DO let the survivor know you are glad they disclosed to you.

DON’T interrogate or ask for specific details about the sexual assault.

DON’T ask “why” questions such as “why did you go there?” or “why didn’t you scream?”

DON’T tell them what you would have done or what they should have done.


How You Can Take Care of Yourself

Learn as much as you can about sexual assault: Be as familiar as you can with community resources and common reactions to sexual assault. This will help you better understand the survivor’s experiences and the process of recovery.

Be aware of your own reactions to sexual assault: You may feel a sense of violation when someone you care about has been assaulted. You may experience feelings of confusion, hurt or anger. You may wish you could make the survivor's pain go away. No matter how helpful you are, you can’t make the sexual assault disappear. The best you can do is help the survivor find ways to help themselves. Your support is much more helpful to the survivor than your anger and frustration.

Recognize the difference between what you want and what the survivor wants: Try to distinguish between what you are doing to make yourself feel better from what you are doing to help the survivor. You may be tempted to do things that make you feel better which are not helpful to the survivor, such as beating up the assailant or trying to get the survivor to just “forget about it.” Instead, ask the survivor what would be most helpful.

Know your limitations: Every individual has a limit to how much they can give. This does not make you a failure. It is important to know your own limitations of support and to share these clearly with the survivor. Provide the survivor with other support options; for example, provide them with SAPAC phone numbers. Let the survivor know you will not feel hurt if they choose to talk with someone else.

Seek support for yourself: Your support plays a critical role in the survivor’s recovery. Talking with someone who can help you work through your own feelings will better enable you to support the survivor. Remember to respect the survivor’s privacy when seeking support from others. Counseling support is available for you at University Counseling Services call 330.941.3527 to schedule an appointment.

(Adapted from University of Michigan SAPAC)


Additional Bystander Resources

Bystander Intervention Campaigns and Programs

Bystander Approach

Bringing Prevention Program

Greendot Strategy