Updated: Sep 8, 2021
As summer ends and the school year begins, Sojourner youth educators are preparing to return to teaching in the classroom. The beginning of the school year also brings to mind what many advocates call “the Red Zone.” The Red Zone is the time between the start of the fall semester through Thanksgiving break when there is a statistically heightened risk for sexual assault on college campuses. Among undergraduate students, about 26% of women, 23% of transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming people and 7% of men experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation*. In light of this reality, Sojourner’s youth educators recognize the importance of teaching the concepts of consent, sexual assault and bystander intervention.
Research increasingly shows that bystander intervention is an essential part of sexual violence prevention education. Bystander intervention is a prevention strategy that encourages witnesses to take safe action when they see a situation that might lead to sexual violence or abuse, and to support victims after an incident**. While the only person who is responsible for sexual assault is the perpetrator, we can all contribute to each other’s safety.
Steps of Bystander Intervention
Step 1: Assess the situation by answering these questions before you intervene.
Who is involved and what is happening?
Can you intervene without putting yourself in serious danger? How do you know? For example, are there weapons? Is there alcohol or drug use? Do you know the people? Where are you?
Which strategy will be most effective for this specific situation?
Are there any fellow bystanders nearby that could assist you?
Step 2: Decide which of the three D’s is the best strategy.
Directly interrupt a situation as it is happening
Remain as calm as possible. Aggression may escalate the situation. Think about it—if you see a forest fire, you would not put it out by starting another fire. You would use cool water to get the fire under control.
Ex. "Hey, it's not ok to follow them. You need to back off." or “Are you ok? Would you like me to help you get home?”
Distract the perpetrator from what they are doing. A distraction will cause them to pay attention to you and give the victim a chance to break away and leave
Ex. Change the subject, invite them to do something else, spill your drink, talk to the target like you know them, ask to borrow someone’s phone
Delegate to another individual who has more authority or knowledge in the situation than you do. There is power in numbers, find others around you who could help.
Ex. the potential harm doer or victim’s friend, a resident assistant, bus driver, security guard, store manager, counselor, police officer etc.
Step 3: Delayed Response. I wasn’t able to intervene safely or I found out about something after it happened. What do I do?
Check-in with the victim after the situation occurred, and ask if you can offer help and/or support. This reminds them that they are not alone and that people in their community care about them.
Step 4: Self-care. Witnessing or hearing about harm is not always easy and these situations can be intense. Give yourself the space to process what happened. Try to identify what you may need and get support.
To learn more about bystander intervention visit the following resources: