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Bystander Intervention

What is Bystander Intervention? 

Bystander Intervention is recognizing a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome. Whether it’s  sexual violence, stalking, a friend who’s drinking too much or a teammate using hurtful language, we’ve all been in situations that make us uncomfortable. It can be difficult to speak up–especially if others are around. We may tell ourselves things like, “If no one else is worried, then I shouldn’t worry either.” But all you have to do is take the first step.

Everyone Can Help

There are five steps to helping when witness to a problematic or potentially problematic situation:

  1. Notice the Event: People are busy, distracted, on their phones, talking, texting, not aware of their surroundings – some don’t want to notice. Pay attention to what is going on around you.
  2. Interpret It as a Problem: Sometimes it is hard to tell if someone is in need of help. Err on the side of caution and investigate. Don’t be sidetracked by ambiguity, conformity or peer pressure. 
  3. Assume Personal Responsibility: If not you, then who? Do not assume someone else will do something. Have the courage and confidence to BE THE FIRST!
  4. Know How to Help: NEVER put yourself in harm’s way but DO SOMETHING! Help can be direct or indirect. 
  5. Implement the Help – Act!

If not you, then who? Research shows that if you are alone you will help 80% of the time, but if you are in a  group you will help only 20% of the time because of the diffusion of responsibility-you think someone else will do something.  

Emergency vs Non-Emergency

There will be situations where time will be on your side and you be able to think through your response. However, there may be other circumstances where you find yourself in a situation in which you will simply have to react. Visit RAINN’s Bystander Intervention page for additional information. 

Emergency Situations

  • In an emergency, dial 911. Even if you do not want to be involved directly, this will assist with the person’s safety.
  • If you are willing to intervene, figure out the best way to do so safely. If others are near, get them involved, and be as clear and direct as possible with any requests.
  • Remember, the Department Public Safety is only a phone call away – (978) 556-3333.

Non-Emergency Situations

  • In non-emergency situations, take the time to figure out how you will respond.
  • Interrupt, distract, and/or delay a situation that you think might be problematic, before it becomes an emergency. Non-emergencies can turn into emergencies quickly, so have a backup plan ready.
  • Determine the goal of the intervention. What do you want to have as an outcome? Is your goal realistic? A lot of times people need to hear something over and over before they seek help.
  • Think about and practice what you want to say. Be prepared for a negative reaction. People can feel attacked when confronted and can get angry and defensive. Assure them that you care about them.
  • Use your resources. Maybe you’d prefer that the coach have a hard conversation with them. That’s OK–by getting someone else involved, you’re still doing something.

Communication Styles

We each have different personalities, which means we might come at intervention in different ways. If you tend to be a mild-mannered, soft spoken, trustworthy person, you might be the perfect person to have a serious conversation with a friend about their mental health or the problems in their life. If you’re chatty, sociable, and the life of the party, you might have great skills to step in when a social situation gets out of hand and a fight is brewing. You can always ask for help from a friend whose personality might suit the situation better than yours does. 

Risk Reduction

NECC recognizes that only those who commit sexual violence are responsible for those action. Victims of sexual assault or harassment are not to blame. While you can never completely protect yourself from sexual assault, these are some tips to help reduce your risk of being assaulted:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Try to avoid isolated areas.
  • Walk with purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going, act like you do.
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably isn’t the best place to be.
  • Try not to load yourself down with packages or bags as this can make you appear more vulnerable.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be isolated with someone you do not trust or someone you don’t know.
  • Avoid putting headphones in both ears so that you can be more aware of your surroundings.

If someone is pressuring you and you need to get out of an uncomfortable situation:

  • Remember that being in this situation is not your fault.
  • Don’t feel obligated to do anything you do not want to do.
  • Have a code word with your friends or family so that you can call them and communicate your discomfort without alerting the person you are with.
  • Try to think of an escape route. How would you get out of the room? Where are the doors and windows?

If you are a victim of a sexual assault:

  • Please remember, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
  • Dial 911. Contact the NECC Public Safety Department 978-556-3333, Haverhill Police 978-373-1212, Lawrence Police 978-794-5900, or your local police department. On campus you can contact Counseling Services 978-556-3730,or the Title IX Coordinator 978-556-3928 . Off campus you can reach out to a local rape crisis center: YWCA of Greater Lawrence 24 hr hotline (877) 509-9922, YWCA North Shore Rape Crisis Center 24 hr hotline (800) 922-8772, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) 24/7 Hotline (800) 841-8371. At the very least, reach out to a trusted friend. 
  • If you contact the police, while you are waiting try not to shower, douche, wash, smoke or change clothes in any way as there may be evidence that can be preserved.
  • Do not throw away torn clothing or straighten up the area where the assault took place. These may also provide evidence.
  • The officer will ask where the assault took place, for a description of the suspect and for a description of any vehicle involved. The police will want to find the assailant as soon as possible.
  • In cases of sexual assault, dating violence or domestic violence, victims should elect to have a forensic examination done at a local hospital from a specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurse. There are SANE nurses on call at the Lawrence General Hospital (978-683-4000 ext. 2500) 1 General St Lawrence, MA 01841, Lowell General Hospital (978-937-6000) 295 Varnum Ave Lowell, MA 01854, and in the Boston area, Boston Medical Center (617-638-8000) One Medical Center Place Boston, MA 02118.

    External Video Resources

  • Watch a brief video on Teaching Bystanders to Intevene (a new window will open)
  • Follow this link to view a video on why The Bystander Effect is Complicated (a new window will open)
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