For most, the thought of witnessing a threatening situation unfold is uncomfortable. It’s easy to turn your head and look away, but what if you could help stop a problem from escalating? In some circumstances you can, through bystander intervention. 

According to RAINN.org, women ages 18-24 who are college students are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.

So how can we change that statistic?

“You can affect change in a multitude of ways,” says Katie Abetya, Larimer County Director of Victim Advocacy and Outreach at the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate (SAVA) Center. One of those ways is through bystander intervention. 

“Bystander intervention is the choice to interrupt problematic behavior to stop someone from experiencing harm,” says Abetya. But how can you identify if a situation is potentially threatening? 

By trusting your gut.

“We have been socialized to not pry into each others’ business. It’s easy to think ‘It’s none of my business, I should stay out of it.’ People tend to doubt themselves and the situation. They don’t want to be wrong, they don’t want to cause a scene, and they’re not really sure how to handle it.”

But stepping in and interrupting a situation you’re viewing as problematic could make a big difference. Just make sure your safety isn’t compromised before intervening to help someone else. Abetya explained how there are both direct and indirect ways you can help in a situation.

“Causing a distraction is an effective tactic. You want to bring attention to the situation. If you’re at a bar and you notice someone may be in trouble, just say ‘Hey, can I chat with you for a second?’ Pull them out of the situation. If you’re not comfortable approaching someone directly, alert a bartender, bouncer, or staff member. Bringing attention can help de-escalate and evaporate a threatening situation.”

And if you spot someone in immediate danger, call 911. 

“There’s no harm done if you happen to be wrong about a situation, but the risk of harm is high if we notice something and don’t say anything.”

Here are 6 tips for bystander Intervention as recommended by the SAVA Center: 

  • Tell another person

Being with others you trust and with whom you feel safe is a good idea when a situation feels dangerous.

  • Check in

Ask the person you’re worried about if they’re okay. Provide options, listen to their needs, or just keep them company if they’re alone.

  • Distract or redirect

Distracting either the potential victim or potential perpetrator might remove attention from and/or deescalate the situation.

  • Try to help

Ask the person you’re worried about if you can help them get in touch with a friend or if they need help leaving or getting home.

  • Call for help

Ask someone close by, a bartender or server if they can help. If there is immediate danger, yell for help or call 911.

  • Trust your instincts

If you sense discomfort between others, you’re probably right. If a situation doesn’t seem right to you, trust your gut and follow one of the steps above.

Source: The SAVA Center for It’s On Us Fort Collins community initiative

Lastly, Abetya explains a victim is never to blame for a situation.“The most important message is that it is never the victim’s fault when they are sexually assaulted. The only person who is responsible is the person who committed the act. No one has the right to touch you without your permission or consent.”

For more information on bystander intervention, visit www.sava.org.

Looking for more tips on how to stay safe on campus? Check out our blog post featuring five sensible tips for students.