Maybe you’ve been there before. You’re at a bar, or a college house party, and you’ve had a couple more drinks than you normally do, stumbling and slurring a little more than your normal party self. Maybe you’re talking to a cute friend or a classmate a stranger you just met who has like the COOLEST tattoos. And one of your friends suggests that you get pizza, or asks you to accompany them to the bathroom, or brings you to the iPod to select the next song. Probably, that cute friend/classmate/tattooed superhero is a great person, but when your other friend stepped in to check in with you, to give you a chance to really, really make a decision about the course of the night, we call this being an active bystander.
Bystander intervention is not a new practice, and it does not relate only to sexual assault. More often than not, a friend checking in will ask a couple questions and send you back to a perfectly friendly conversation or dance party or quasi-public make-out sesh, but every now and then, the courageous friend who stepped in will take you home when you’re too drunk, buy you a slice of pizza, and make sure you’re safe. Sometimes we call this person a “cockblock,” but usually we call this person “awesome.” Because when they send you back to your dance-floor make-out after checking in to make sure you know and understand the decisions that you’re making after a few solo cups of crappy beer, you know that they have your best interests in mind.
So why is bystander intervention important? A February New York Times article (that’s actually a really great read and we strongly recommend doing so) stated that bystander intervention may well be the best way to prevent sexual assaults on college campuses. Bystander intervention is stepping into a situation to give people a chance to think about what they’re doing, not about taking people’s choices away. A great way to think of this is through the “Four D’s.”
- (Be) Direct: Like the example you saw above, step right in and directly check in with a friend. You could also step in and say something like, “Hey man, back off,” or “C’mon, we’re all a little drunk for that, not tonight.” This is easier when you know both parties.
- Distract: Also known as the “steal someone’s pizza” technique. “OMG is that a dog riding a unicycle?!” “That is the coolest outfit I’ve ever seen!” “He’s about to eat WHAT?!” You can distract someone and then pull them out of a situation to check in. This usually allows the bystander to make a joke or be silly, which is definitely appealing to some of us.
- Delegate: Not sure how to step in? Is it a friend of a friend? Are you nervous about approaching them? That’s ok, grab someone who is comfortable in this situation. Find someone with more social power (Are you at a frat party? Find a brother that you know. Are you an underclassmen? Find an RA, someone older from your sports team, someone who’s hosting the party, etc.) to check in. Maybe you can approach with a couple friends and that will make you feel more comfortable.
- Delay: “Hey, I really have to pee, can you come with me?!” This gives you a moment to pull someone out of a situation, check in, and slow things down.
This PreventConnect page has some great references and resources to help incorporate bystander intervention practices into your own lives or campuses. UNH has also been setting the curve for bystander intervention trainings. There’s also Men Can Stop Rape, and of course, Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) who are also doing great work to specifically engage men in bystander intervention. One example of a successful program is Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence (BMASV), which encourages male students, especially athletes, to recognize these situations and empower them to intervene. A group at South Portland High School worked with male athletes to make an awesome video coaching boys into men.
Most of the time, everything is just fine, but the one time you step in and prevent an assault will change someone’s life, and we don’t just mean theirs.
Want more examples of ways to be an active bystander? Speak About It is performing live at the Portland Public Library tomorrow, Friday, April 18th at 6:30pm. We’ll show you some great tips to be an active bystander, and some that we should probably leave onstage.
Can’t make the show but want to help? Donate here. #30daysofSpeakAboutIt #30daysofgiving #bystanderinvtervention