“That is none of my concern/business!”
“Someone else will help them.”
“Maybe they are playing around.”
“I don’t have enough time to help them, I am already late.”
“I am too weak to help.”
Have you ever thought this after witnessing someone in need of help or support? Many of us do. The bystander effect is when a person observes someone in need of help and does not provide help. Bystanders can address and prevent sexual assault, dating violence, and any other types of unhealthy behaviors by taking action. Unfortunately, it has become a common mentality amongst society when an individual witnesses an act of abuse to turn the other way. Many bystanders believe that someone else will speak up causing them to not act on the behaviors they witness.
Why is this important?
You can be the solution to preventing the bystander effect. The video below exhibits the truth about the bystander effect and illustrates the importance of becoming an active bystander. The collective silence practiced in the bystander effect has consequences for how others, you, and I behave in our communities, at school or at work with strangers or peers. When we do not respond to a situation we can negatively impact the outcome. The issues can be minor, but they may also be very severe and/or damaging.
Active bystanders are advocates for preventing further harm towards others by taking action. Whether you are intervening when you overhear a comment that is harassing or abusive, or you witness a situation where someone is being hurt or could be hurt, there are many creative ways to be an active bystander. Here are some interventions that can help empower you and others to be active bystanders:
- Trust — the voice within yourself
- Evaluate — the situation and your options
- Acknowledge — your responsibility as an active bystander
- Respond — appropriately
Ways to Intervene:
- Direct: If it feels safe to do so, respond directly to the person who is causing harm. Address the behavior directly, name what is happening, and clearly voice that the behavior and action taking place is harmful and unacceptable.
- Delegate: Enlist the help of someone else or a group of people to make a stand against harm and support the person being harmed. If there are concerns about safety, call authorities (911) or identify someone else that can safely intervene.
- Distract: Distracting can be a subtle and creative way to intervene. Spill a drink, pretend you know the person being harmed or harassed, or cause a commotion to derail or de-escalate the situation.
- Delay: If you can’t intervene in the moment, ask the person that is being harmed if they are okay and/or if they want to leave. If you documented the incident, offer to send it to them.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: If someone is in danger, if you fear of harm towards yourself or others, or if there is a potential threat— REPORT the event or incident to the authorities. Authorities include police officers, Child Protective Services, parent, teacher, principal, etc.
Remember to NEVER place yourself in harm’s way.
Additionally, if you are an adult and you are not sure if you need to make a report to Child Protective Services based on harm or abuse towards a child, please click here to read #stopthehurt article on being a mandated reporter.
Adult supporters of children:
It is very important to discuss ways to be an active bystander with children prior to something happening. This will allow an open dialogue to address any perceived judgment, shame, guilt, or fear that may come along with witnessing abuse or harm towards others. Additionally, it will allow the child to know they will be supported throughout the process and feel empowered to potentially help when they see something happening that they want to stop.