Five Things College Students Need to Know About Bystander Intervention

Bystander Intervention | What You Should Know

Posted on 11 June 2015 |

violence"I don't want to get involved."
"I don't know what to do."
"Saying something will only make it worse."

We've all heard these reasons for not intervening when we see a person or group of people hurting someone else, whether it's with words or fists -- or something even worse. It's not that people don't care. They're just scared. Scared of doing something wrong. Or scared of getting hurt themselves. 

But stepping up, speaking up or calling for help can make a big difference in the outcome of a bad situation. And that's true on college campuses, too, where there are so many students and so many opportunities for good (or bad) things to happen. 

Here are five things every college student should know about bystander intervention and their college experience.

1) A campus (or community) with a high level of bystander intervention usually has a much lower level of sexual assaults, physical violence and verbal abuse. If people know others are going to intervene, they are less likely to behave badly. (The reverse is also true. A culture of "staying out of it" encourages more aggressive behavior because there is less chance of anyone stepping in, no matter what they see or hear.) 

2) Intervening does not mean putting yourself in harm's way. Call the police, setting off a car alarm or creating noise to draw a crowd are all ways to safely and effectively intervene without actually confronting an assailant. 

3) Intervening does NOT make you uncool or a snitch. It makes you a caring person who won't allow another person to be hurt without trying to help in some way. So many of us carry that "don't tell" concept from childhood. But as young adults, that concept needs to be replaced with a more responsible, caring attitude. 

4) Not all situations that require bystander intervention involve physical assault. Verbal abuse and bullying can be just as damaging as bodily attacks, and need to be stopped. Bystanders play a huge role in identifying and halting bullying and verbal harassment. Even checking out reports you hear from another person about someone being harmed, bullied or abused can be a meaningful part of bystander intervention. 

5) Role playing various types of events, and the appropriate response is one of the best ways to overcome the uncertainty about what to do to keep the victim and the bystander safe. This can be a part of an official bystander training unit, or can be integrated into dorm meetings, Greek events or other student organization gatherings. 

We get it. It's another thing to learn. And students already need to learn so many things during their time in college. But knowing when and how to step up to save another person from harm might be one of the most important things you (or they) ever learns in college. It's a skill that could literally save lives for decades to come. Hard to say that about question 16 on your bio exam!


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