Bystander intervention is about the small things we all do for our friends and communities. When we see that someone is experiencing unwanted attention or pressure, we have a variety of ways we can check in: anything from a simple hello to a more creative disruption.
The best interventions happen early on—right when we notice that something is off, and well before a situation escalates. These interventions are easy, subtle, and safe. They help build a community that doesn’t tolerate casual disrespect and disregard, and prevent pressure and disrespect from escalating to discrimination, coercion, sexual assault, and violence.
How you choose to help others depends partly on your personality. To identify your own bystander style—direct, distraction, or stealth—check out each scenario. Keep track of your preferred responses, and use them to score your answers.
1. At a friend’s get-together, you notice someone from your chemistry class pulling a very drunk person into the bedroom where everyone put their coats. Do you…?
A. Point this out to the host.
B. Catch up with your classmate, and offer to help with finding the drunk person’s friends or getting medical attention.
C. Follow them into the room, ask if they’ve seen your coat, and describe it at length.
2. One of your classmates makes a rape joke. Some people laugh, while others look uncomfortable. The adult in the room doesn’t say anything. Do you…?
A. Make a sympathetic face at the uncomfortable classmates, and check in with them later.
B. Roll your eyes and say, “Oh yeah, sexual violence is hilarious. But back to what we were talking about…”
C. Talk to the adult, and tell them the joke made you and others uncomfortable.
3. At a party, you notice a classmate looking uncomfortable about someone who’s trying to dance with them and getting too close. Do you…?
A. Dance toward them, and invite some friends to join the circle.
B. “Accidentally” bump into the handsy dancer.
C. Sidle up to the laptop, interrupt the playlist, blast the Game of Thrones theme song, and look as surprised as everyone else.
4. At lacrosse practice, one of your teammates seems distracted. When you ask if everything is OK, your teammate shrugs and says, “Yeah, I just hung out with a guy last night, and it got weird.” Do you…?
A. Say, “Weird how? Do you want to talk about it?” Suggest contacting your school’s counseling center, if that seems appropriate.
B. Text your teammate’s best friend and suggest they get lunch together and check in.
C. Make yourself available that day to grab a bite or go on a run with your teammate in case they want to talk.
5. During a small get-together, your friend Alex gets a text from an ex: Wanna come over? Alex hasn’t expressed any interest in getting back together with this ex, so you are surprised when Alex gets up to head over. Do you…?
A. “Accidentally” spill water all over the floor. Ask Alex to help clean up and strike up a conversation about the text.
B. Offer to drive Alex over with another mutual friend; you’ll talk it through on the way.
C. Hide Alex’s shoes, wait for Alex to notice they’re missing, and exclaim, “That’s a sign! Why don’t you stay here?”
6. You and a couple of other upperclassmen are having lunch with a group of freshmen. Everyone is bantering about their favorite baseball teams. John is mostly silent and eventually says, “I’m not into sports much.” Jamie laughs and says, “What are you, gay?” Do you…?
A. Say, “Thanks, John! I’m not into sports either. Glad I’m not the only one.”
B. Say, “We don’t use ‘gay’ in a negative way here,” and promptly change the subject.
C. Check in with John after lunch, and ask one of the other upperclassmen to have a chat with Jamie.
Your score: What type of bystander are you?
Score your responses according to the table below. Note: There are no right or wrong answers, no better or worse answers. This quiz is about finding your bystander style.
What your score says about you
How to step up your game
“Now that you’ve called out the behavior in the moment, try checking in with the person after the fact,” says Lizzy Appleby, MSW, youth program manager at Angles, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting teens and young adults in the areas of sexual health, identity, and education in Northfield, Illinois. “It’s great to intervene while the event is happening, but it can be helpful to offer some follow-up support. You might even learn new or better strategies to intervene in the moment from hearing their perspective.”
How to step up your game
“Since you’re already the creative type, try using your humor and ingenuity to come up with a joke or distraction that directly calls out the behavior,” says Appleby. “Getting the person out of the situation in the moment is the first priority, but calling negative attention to the inappropriate behavior can help prevent it from happening again.”
How to step up your game
You’re great at doing the important work of supporting people who have been harassed, assaulted, or put in an uncomfortable situation. But it’s also important to try to help people get out of a bad situation in the moment. “Try calling a friend over for support to intervene in a situation while it’s happening, or making a direct statement and then pulling in a friend (for example, ‘Jess, are you OK? Katie, come over and help me with Jess!’),” says Appleby.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how you intervene as long as you do something. Checking in early enables you to keep things subtle and avoid putting yourself or others at risk. Creating and maintaining a healthy school community means being aware of what’s happening around us and saying and/or doing something when we see a situation that just doesn’t look or feel right.
Taylor, Geneva, New York
“There are times when we just need to phone a lifeline, whether that’s a friend, a family member, or even security. If you find yourself (or someone else) in an uncomfortable situation, this app can send an alert to up to six designated friends or family at the touch of a button.”
Help is only a button away—whether you (or a friend) are in a sketchy situation and need assistance, if you’re walking somewhere and feel uncomfortable, or if you witness a situation that appears dangerous or unsafe.
If you’re looking for an entertaining new game or social platform, this isn’t for that.
Your circle is notified when they’re added, so they’re aware that they’re an emergency contact. And contacting them is super easy—the prompts are already made!
This quiz incorporates an earlier quiz created by Lee Scriggins, MSW, community substance abuse prevention coordinator at Boulder County Department of Public Health (formerly health communications and program manager at the University of Colorado, Boulder); and Teresa Wroe, director of education and prevention/deputy Title IX coordinator at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Lizzy Appleby, MSW, youth program manager at Angles, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting teens and young adults in the areas of sexual health, identity, and education, in Northfield, Illinois.
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