Bystander Intervention

This is originally from a Facebook post, which has been shared many times and which I refer to frequently. I’m finally dropping it here, and will write more about this in the future.

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We teach bystander intervention in sexual assault and intimate partner violence prevention, but it is an important and useful tool in the prevention of many forms of personal violence.  As we see more emboldened public displays of racism, misogyny, and bigotry it is inevitable that one day you will be witness to an act of violence, whether that is bullying, a physical attack, or some other threat to a person’s safety.

This is a basic breakdown of reactive intervention techniques for bystander intervention, which you can use when you are in such a situation. Think about them, discuss them with your community, do some role playing. Be prepared to claim and wield your power for the protection of another.

Reactive intervention is designed to distract and interrupt the perpetrator and allow the victim time to respond and get to a safer place, or for the attacker to leave.

Basic techniques of reactive intervention are Direct, Distract, Delegate.

Direct: you intervene directly in the situation by inserting yourself into it, sometimes putting yourself between the victim and the perp, and addressing the perp directly by calling out their behavior. This is the most involved and potentially dangerous of the interventions, and you should be prepared for potential escalation and hatred being spewed at you too. But it is the most likely to allow the victim time to get away. Consider power dynamics carefully here; great option for those who carry privilege in the situation.

Distract: you intervene by distracting the perp with unrelated questions or comments. Ask for directions, ask about a game on the TV, somehow engage them in questions about something else going on around them. This is the second most involved of the interactions and does carry some potential for escalation.

Another technique is not to say anything, but make your presence known. Stand close to the victim. Stare at the perp. Let them know you are watching and present and may step in if it gets worse. This technique straddles the line of Distract and Direct.

Delegate: This technique gets other people involved. You may see something but not feel comfortable intervening by yourself. You can ask others around you to intervene with you. There is power in numbers and a group of people addressing a perp and making their presence known can shift a situation faster than anything else I’ve seen. This is a powerful option particularly for those who do not hold privilege in a situation or are not comfortable with confrontation (which is often due to an individual’s own trauma).

In the Delegate response, traditional BI suggests getting a police officer or other individual with systematically imbued power involved. In situations of violence of oppression I do not encourage this as a first reaction, as it may add to the victim’s trauma.

What techniques do/would you use? In what situations might you see these techniques be useful, or to fail?