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Looking out for Each Other, An Active Bystander’s Role

What if I told you that you had the power to stop sexual violence before it even occurred?

You personally have what it takes to intervene in situations where someone may be at risk of getting taken advantage of. You can step in and have the potential to change someone’s life without them even knowing about it. You have the power to be an active bystander.

An active bystander is just a regular person like you and me. You don’t have to take a class on social cues or odd behavior, it is something that is instilled in all of us naturally. An active bystander chooses to identify harmful behavior and intervene to change the potential outcome.

How can I be an active bystander?

There are 3 easy steps to be an active bystander.

  1. Observe that something is going on
  2. Decide if that situation is a problem
  3. Take the responsibility to intervene
  4. Choose your plan to intervene

There are several ways that one can be an active bystander, but the first step is being observant. In any situation, it is essential to look out for your safety and look for signs of danger. While we are around others, we should consider their safety as as well, especially when they are impaired.

Being an active bystander does not mean that you have to be watching everyone, say at a party, and not have any fun for yourself. Being an active bystander means you step in when you see that something isn’t adding up.

1. In any social interaction, you can look for signs of unwanted touching or talking.

This includes derogatory or damaging language, threats, demeaning words, slurs or tones of voice unnecessary for the situation. However you don’t always have to look for language that is damaging. You can also look for uncomfortable conversation coming from one party.

Passive conversation techniques trying to gear an unwanted person away usually involve one person saying “maybe later!” or “I would but I need to find may friends…” etc. When you hear things like this, it is time see if there’s an actual problem.

2. Once you’ve identified that something weird is going on, decide that it is a problem.

Once you have decided that there is a problem, you can begin to create your plan to intervene. Now intervening does not have to be aggressive or confrontational, it can be simple and not even look or sound like an intervention.

3. Taking personal responsibility to intervene.

Now before we get into the different ways one can intervene, it is important to note that you are taking personal responsibility to intervene. Because you are intervening, remember that you only have to do what is in your comfortability level. In order to intervene effectively, quickly, and efficiently you must first have a plan of action.

4. Choose your plan of action.

There are several ways to be an active bystander in a situation, but we will focus on four main ways.

  1. Distract
  2. Delegate
  3. Direct
  4. Delay

But before we begin remember this: in order to intervene, you don’t have to do anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing. 

In order to effectively use the distraction technique, all you have to do is distract from the current situation in order to deescalate it. This can be done a number of ways, but the easiest one is to pull something up on your phone to change the conversation. This is a great non-confrontational way to be an active bystander without making anyone feel uncomfortable or attracting any unnecessary attention.

If you are not comfortable approaching the two (or more) people in a situation, feel free to use the delegation technique. This is when you see that something is going on, identify it as a problem, and don’t feel comfortable intervening yourself. This is when you can delegate the task of intervening to someone bigger than you, louder than you, or just more comfortable approaching a stranger than you.

If you go for the direct technique, all the power to you girl. This is not for everyone, but it is the most clear way in order to make the situation disappear. In order to use this technique, you directly go up to the person that is acting creepy (gross, etc.) and tell them just that. By telling them that what they are doing is not okay, you can potentially correct their behavior in that moment while also taking away the person that is in danger. Before being direct, make sure you and the person in danger are going to be safe after the interaction.

Finally, you can delay the situation. This is more of a checking-in method to make sure the potential victim is alright. You can pull them away for a second and ask if everything is okay. For example, “Oh my god Jessica I haven’t seen you in forever!” and when you pull her into a hug you can whisper in her ear, “Are you okay? I don’t think that other person has good intentions.” This is a great way for communication to begin between the active bystander and the potential victim and in that situation they may be able to create a better plan of action to get them away from the other person.

You can be an active bystander and change someone’s life forever, remember that.


Also published on Medium.

Madison LaBerge is an Arizona State University sophomore. She loves her...