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Bystander Intervention is a technique frequently utilized within the field of sexual violence prevention due to its effectiveness, ease of teaching, and application across a variety of fields. From colleges to high schools, in the workforce and public settings, Bystander Intervention offers the general population specific techniques, adaptable to a multitude of situations. When training on Bystander Intervention, there is no lack of information out there. The key is selecting the proper resources for the demographics of your audience and finding suitable ways to instruct on the appropriate techniques.

In discussing Bystander Intervention, it is important first to understand where this term stems from, different topics addressed by Bystander Intervention, concerns for education, and how to maximize the impact of audience learning and changed behavior.

What Is Bystander Intervention?

Bystander Intervention stems from psychological principles about how people interact in groups. The main concept that drives Bystander Intervention lies in the Bystander Effect. This idea theorizes that whenever a group of individuals collectively witnesses an event where they have the power to prevent harm to another person, each individual will fail to act because they feel someone else will help the victim.

The Bystander Effect stems from a real-life incident involving the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. In this famous case, a woman in New York City was murdered even though countless neighbors and strangers were aware of the situation and could have prevented the crime. In response, psychologists attempted to understand why no one acted to help the victim. The idea of Bystander Effect was then created, and through the years, our understanding has developed. Over time, further research has sought to understand why we fail to act in supporting others. Some research related to altruism shows we are more likely to step in when the victim’s fate is somehow tied to ours. In other words, we care because we are connected, but fail to adequately express support for those we do not know.

When faced with the dilemma that people fail to act in support of a victim of a harmful incident, psychologists wanted to understand how to better prevent these types of incidents from occurring, and Bystander Intervention was born.

Bystander Intervention trains individuals on a series of techniques to become involved in potentially dangerous or risky situations. It builds on the principle of people being educated on risks, and aims to develop understanding of how they can provide support, no matter their relationship to the victim. With all Bystander Intervention, there is an underlying principle that people cannot be expected to react if they do not know what situations are considered dangerous.

The complexity of Bystander Intervention lies in the training on the subject. Although it covers a wide spectrum of topics, we will discuss how Bystander Intervention can be applied in a variety of situations.

"Bystander Intervention trains individuals to intervene when they see a victim being put in potentially dangerous or risky situations."

When faced with the dilemma that people fail to act in support of a victim of a harmful incident, psychologists wanted to understand how to better prevent these types of incidents from occurring, and Bystander intervention was born.

Bystander Intervention trains individuals to intervene when they see a victim being put in potentially dangerous or risky situations. It builds on the principle of poeple being educated on risks, and aims to develop understanding of how they can provide support, no matter their relationship to the victim. With all Bystander Intervention, there is an underlying principle that people cannot be expected to react if they do not know what situations are considered dangerous.

The complexity of Bystander Intervention lies in the training on the subject. Although it covers a wide spectrum of topics, we will discuss how Bystander Intervention can be applied in a variety of situations.

Differing Topics for Bystander Intervention

To illustrate how Bystander Intervention can be applied in so many diverse areas, think of the following: How many scenarios can you name where someone might be at risk of harm and other individuals can step in to minimize or outright prevent this harm?

  • Drunk Driving
  • Sexual Assault
  • Relationship Violence
  • Domestic Violence
  • Bullying & Cyberbullying


And the list goes on.

When discussing Bystander Intervention, one of the first considerations is deciding what area or topic to tie into your education. From substance abuse to acts of violence, Bystander Intervention can be utilized as a means of assisting in countless situations where there is risk, a victim, and potential for harm. Intentionality in how you are training for Bystander Intervention does matter significantly to drive appropriate impact.

"Bystander Intervention is often considered the pinnacle of prevention work"

Most commonly, Bystander Intervention has been taught as a means of preventing sexual assault. In these trainings, a first emphasis lies in education on the definition of sexual assault, and the Bystander Effect. From there, trainers provide clear solutions to common problems, outlining how to prevent various levels of assault, and how to step in before a situation escalates to harm. The goal is to teach the audience to be active bystanders versus passive bystanders. As an active bystander the person who witnesses an emergency, recognizes it, and takes it upon themselves to do something about it. In contrast, a passive bystander will respond to a harmful situation by doing nothing. Due to its vast preventative success, Bystander Intervention is often considered the pinnacle of prevention work.

Discussing Bystander Intervention is anything but cut and dry. Questions that emerge will likely range from implementation of techniques, to a review of specialized scenarios, to an exploration of the root of the issues. When training on Bystander Intervention, it is better to have a sniper approach, carefully selecting targets, instead of a shotgun approach, providing generalized training and hoping for recipients to be able to apply it to a multitude of events. In this regard, time will also be a factor. If you have enough time to train on a full range of topics, there is no harm in providing a multifaceted approach with examples of how to react in different situations.

Considerations for Training

 Time Constraints

Time constraints will affect the amount and type of information you will deliver. For example, in a one-hour speech, you may only be able to deliver a high level overview of Bystander Intervention and its underlying principles versus small group breakout sessions over a period of a few days where training and education can be applied to specific situations. The information you share and its application will vastly differ based on the length of your program.

It is also important to factor in how many people you can manage and the type of conversations this will allow. Smaller groups will allow for more in-depth conversations, personalized training, and the use of role playing activities that will take more time. Larger audiences will be more high-level education utilizing storytelling and real life case studies, that will take less time.

Factoring in time constraints will impact the topics you cover, the supplemental training you will offer, and the outcomes you might hope to accomplish.

 Audience Demographics

How you talk about Bystander Intervention and its application to various issues will depend on the demographics of your audience. Where other demographics can come into play, it is important to focus on age and gender above all else. Remember, Bystander Intervention training in regards to sexual assault requires greater information on the complexities of sexual assault. Past education on sexual violence will influence how audiences internalize and even apply this technique.

Before conducting pieces of training on the topic, focus on who will be in your crowd and how these individuals are going to internalize this information. As with many of the other aspects detailed prior, it is crucial you are aware of the demographical information before you simply plan an event.

 Supplemental Education

Supplemental education and information will reinforce your training and, a multi-educational approach helps participants retain the information.

The following resources can serve as take-home tools or further training meant to supplement existing education:

  • Pocket Pointer – this brochure can easily be tucked away in a binder or bag so your attendees have a reminder of how to deal with a situation.
  • Bystander Phone Pocket / Wallet Card – has reminders of how to intervene when your attendees are confronted by a sexual assault scenario.
  • Sexual Assault Edu-Slider – this educational tool explains the idea of consent and how to stay safe from sexual assault.
  • Active Bystander Edu-Slider – covers a range of topics from the continuum of violence to how and when to intervene with the goal of turning passive bystanders into active bystanders.
  • Other resources can be provided before a training to allow for a foundational knowledge of Bystander Intervention and be used for a more advanced conversation on the topic.

    • Defining Sexual Assault – a series of three 13-minute videos exploring what constitutes sexual assault and consent, what happens after an assault, how to reduce risk, and how Bystander Intervention helps. This series lays a basis of understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate behavior, how sexual assault affects real people, and introduces the idea of stamping it out as a community.
    • Speak Out and Stand Up – a 20-minute video following the story of a college student who is sexually assaulted and challenges viewers to become active bystanders.
    • Bully Bystanders: You Can Make a Difference – an 18-minute video demonstrating real scenarios where teens make a difference by standing up to bullying.

    How to Maximize Training

    The most successful Bystander Intervention programs have found a “tell and show” approach to be most effective. Since Bystander Intervention involves the practical application of techniques and direct action from a population, just educating is not enough. Practice is also needed.

    The Tell and Show Approach

    Bystander Intervention is a practical application that is demonstrated through specific experiences. Therefore, application alongside education is worthwhile and helps to incorporate some form of activities with direct audience participation.

    "The most successful Bystander Intervention programs have found a tell and show approach to be most effective"

    The application will most likely stem from role-playing scenarios giving participants a chance to handle hypothetical, but personally meaningful scenarios in real-time or walking through group exercises where individuals debrief and process a situation. Adding the emphasis of an interactive component will not only keep your audience engaged, but also better reinforce the practical aspects of the topic at hand. The impact of acting out scenarios cannot be overstated and can have great influence on reinforcing Bystander Intervention’s success in adoption and practice.

    Resources for Participant Interaction at Events

    These resources can help facilitate a conversation with your audience about different scenarios that may occur, which can then lead into interactive role-playing sessions:

    • Sexual Assault Awareness Event Kit – this kit gives you everything you need to help spread awareness of sexual assault at your event. Effective for big and small audiences, the banners and displays spread facts in an easy-to-read format while your event staff and volunteers can answer specific, detailed questions from your attendees.
    • "What Would You Do?" Wheel – an interactive game wheel with interchangeable scenarios to spur discussions on how to intervene and give your attendees a chance to role-play intervening in real life situations.

    Conclusion

    Bystander Intervention, especially in regards to sexual violence prevention, is one of the education and prevention industry’s most widely used techniques because of its perceived effectiveness. When taught properly, it provides audience members the tools necessary to intervene in a multitude of situations with confidence, while minimizing harm for all those present.

    Resources

    We have supported many Bystander Intervention programs and compiled a list of effective resources to help educate your audience. These are only one piece of the puzzle, but are nevertheless an important one.

    Awareness

    The first step in a Bystander Intervention program is educating your audience about which scenarios require intervention. It’s difficult to identify what is and isn’t appropriate, and bystanders may not feel comfortable intervening in what they perceive to be a private issue.

    These resources will help your attendees recognize inappropriate behavior that they may come across in their everyday lives:

    • Sexual Assault Edu-Slider – this educational tool explains the idea of consent and how to stay safe from sexual assault.
    • Defining Sexual Assault – a series of three 13-minute videos exploring what constitutes sexual assault and consent, what happens after an assault, how to reduce risk, and how Bystander Intervention helps. This series lays a basis of understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate behavior, how sexual assault affects real people, and introduces the idea of stamping it out as a community.
    • Sexual Assault Awareness Event Kit – this kit gives you everything you need to help spread awareness of sexual assault at your event. Effective for big and small audiences, the banners and displays spread facts in an easy-to-read format while your event staff and volunteers can answer specific, detailed questions from your attendees.

    Bystander Intervention

    With the right background knowledge of the underlying issues, your audience is now ready to learn how to intervene in a safe and effective way.

    Active Bystander Edu-Slider – covers a range of topics from the continuum of violence to how and when to intervene with the goal of turning passive bystanders into active bystanders.

    Speak Out and Stand Up – a 20-minute video following the story of a college student who is sexually assaulted and challenges viewers to become active bystanders.

    Bully Bystanders: You Can Make a Difference – an 18-minute video demonstrating real scenarios where teens make a difference by standing up to bullying.

    "What Would You Do?" Wheel – an interactive game wheel with interchangeable scenarios to spur discussions on how to intervene and give your attendees a chance to role-play intervening in real life situations.

    More Than a Bystander – this brochure can easily be tucked away in a binder or bag so your attendees have a reminder of how to deal with a situation.

    Bystander Phone Pocket / Wallet Card – has reminders of how to intervene when your attendees are confronted by a sexual assault scenario.

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