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Bystander Intervention

Two people are arguing more and more loudly about the last space in the parking lot. Does anyone try to prevent a fist fight? A man tells a sexist joke to a group of acquaintances, and one woman in the group winces. Does anyone else say anything?

Bystanders are the largest group of people involved in violence – they greatly outnumber both the perpetrators and the victims. Bystanders have a range of involvement in assaults. Some know that a specific assault is happening or will happen, some see an assault or potential assault in progress, and some know that assaults do happen. Regardless of how close to the assault they are, bystanders may have the power to stop assaults from occurring and have the power to get help for people who have been victimized.

We have all been bystanders in our lives, and we will all be in situations where we are bystanders in the future. The choice, then, becomes whether we are going to be active bystanders who take action, or whether we will be passive bystanders who stand by and do nothing.

Remember, there is a range of actions that are appropriate, depending on the situation. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, calling 911 is the best action a bystander can take.

*Adapted from Stop Abuse at Virginia Tech, (2012); Mediation@MIT’s Active Bystander Program, (2004)

Why Bystanders Don't Act

  • They fear for their own safety.
  • They fear loss of relationships, with the problem person or with others who may disapprove of action.
  • They fear retaliation.
  • They fear embarrassment, especially if they may not be believed.
  • They feel a lack of competence, or uncertainty about what action would be best.
  • They believe someone else will take action.

As opposed to being the bystander who stands by and takes no action, we want to create a culture of zero tolerance of domestic violence for all members of our society.