Quick Escape

Sexual Assault

When and How to Intervene

You can be an engaged bystander in many ways to help promote healthy, respectful relationships that are free of sexual violence. The social norms that contribute to accepting sexual violence in our society are norms that glorify power over others, objectify women, tolerate violence and aggression, promote stereotypical male behavior, hyper-masculinity,  and foster notions of privacy to the point of secrecy about sexual violence (Davis, Parks, & Cohen, 2010).   Other negative social norms include when children are shown in a sexual way in the media, the sexualization of children in the media, and the power imbalance between adults and children.  Changing social norms can decrease sexual violence in a community (Fabiano, Perkins, Berkowitz, Linkenback, & Stark, 2003). When you decide to interrupt social norms that perpetuate sexual violence in our culture, you are acting as an engaged bystander.

Every situation is different and there is no universal response when intervening to prevent sexual violence.  Safety is key in deciding when and how to respond to sexual violence.  Every person must decide for themselves the safest and most meaningful way to become an engaged bystander. The following are some ideas on how you can maintain safety while being an engaged bystander.

  • When you witness sexual violence, get the support from other people around you, you do not have to act alone.
  • Practice with friends and family about what you would say and how you would say it.
  • When intervening, be respectful, direct, and honest.
  • Contact your local community- based sexual assault center to see if they offer any resources or training on bystander intervention. You can find your local program by contacting your state or territory sexual violence prevention coalition. See http://www.nsvrc.org/organizations/state-and-territory-coalitions for coalition contact information.
  • If you see or hear something and you do not feel safe, call the police or go to the authorities.
What does an engaged bystander look like?
Examples of bystander intervention:
How would you intervene in the following scenarios?
+ In your community…

Q: You are going home from work using public transportation.  You see someone sitting on a bench reading a magazine being watched by someone nearby. You see that the stares are making the person feel uncomfortable.  What do you do?

A:  You can go sit next to the person or place yourself in between the two people to block the stares.

+ In online spaces…

Q: After reading an online news story about someone who was sexually assaulted, you notice a comment that someone posted, implying that the person deserved to get raped because of how they were dressed and how much they had to drink. What do you do?

A: You can respond to the comment by expressing that it is never the survivors’ fault if they are sexually assaulted. It does not matter what clothes they were wearing or how much they have had to drink—the responsibility lies with the person who chose to commit sexual violence, not the actions of the survivor.

+ When you are with your friends…

Q: When out at a bar with your friends, one of your friends is flirting with someone they met at the bar. You can tell that the other person is not interested but your friend will not leave them alone.  What do you do?

A: You can go up to your friend and start a conversation to distract them from the uninterested person. 

+ When you are in school…

Q: You are in the lunch room with your friends and a group of students nearby start making sexual gestures and comments to one of your friends that is sitting with you.  Your friend tries to ignore the comments but you see that they are upset. What do you do?

A: You can tell the group making the comments to stop their sexually harassing behavior, or you could ask your friend if they want to leave and tell a teacher or principal about the harassment.

+ When you are at a sporting event…

Q: You are at your child’s football game and you overhear one of the parents yelling at the children to stop playing like girls.  What do you do?

A: Tell the parent yelling at the children you don’t think it is appropriate to make comments like that or you can inform them that your daughter just made the varsity team at her school.

+ When you are with your teenage child…

Q: Your teenager has started their first romantic relationship.  You would like to make sure they are in a healthy relationship.  What do you do?

A: Sit down with your teenager and ask their what does a healthy relationship mean to them and ask them if the partner they are with exhibits those traits that they listed . The resources  below provide helpful language and information on healthy sexuality and healthy relationships.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America: Talking with kids about sex and sexuality

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States:  Families are Talking

+ When you are with children…

Q: You are a chaperon on a school field trip and you see one of the other chaperones hugging and touching a group of children and you can see this is making them uncomfortable.  What do you do?

A: You can ask the person directly to stop their behavior or stay close to the children that are targeted.  Afterwards, talk to a teacher or other school official and address your concerns about what you saw and your concern about potential child sexual abuse.

+ When you are with adults in later life…

Q:  You care for your parent in your home. While you are at work, you have a nurse care for your parent.  One day you arrive home early and you overhear the nurse making sexual jokes and innuendos to your parent.  What do you do?

A:  Approach the nurse and tell them not to talk to your parent like that.  Call the employer of the nurse, inform them this behavior is sexual harassment and you expect it to be dealt with as such.

+ When you are with your coworkers…

Q: You overhear a female supervisor where you work say that she wishes her boyfriend had a butt like a male employee she supervises. What do you do?

A: You can talk with your supervisor directly or follow the steps to report the incident based on your workplace’s sexual harassment policy.

+ When you are with your family…

Q: You are watching a crime show on television with your mother and a story comes on about someone being raped by a friend.  Your mother makes a comment that the victim is lying because the victim and the perpetrator were friends.  What do you do?

A: Inform your mother that many victims are raped by friends, family or someone the victim knows.

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