How To Engage Bystanders

You’ve read the interviews: Family members or neighbors are often quoted as saying “I thought something was strange. But I didn’t speak up.”

No matter how many times we shake our heads at other’s inaction, it’s a fact: You’re less likely to speak up when others stay quiet. We worry that it may not be our place to speak up or may even make the situation worse.

But raising our voices and engaging bystanders to act isn’t limited to reaction: By allowing and empowering individuals, family members and communities to speak up. Together, people can create a movement of even larger societal change for the prevention of sexual abuse.

Equally important, creating an environment of no-tolerance for victimization goes beyond helping an individual by leading others to act by giving them permission to do the same.

When we all feel comfortable speaking out about sexual abuse, we create safer communities that stop sexual predators BEFORE harm can be done.

engage bystanders

Given the complex nature of most instances of sexual abuse or harassment, many people feel too uncomfortable to intervene. Bystanders often hesitate to act due to fear of being targeted themselves, or that they’ve misread a situation by confusing an individual’s intent. But there are a broad range of opportunities to intervene and offer support to someone being victimized that don’t require drastic action.

Creating New Norms

Active bystander intervention has the possibility of creating greater positive change, much as victim’s stories have helped pave the way for direct help and support channels:

  • It Discourages Victim Blaming:
    When a family and community take an active role in acknowledging sexual predators and protecting one another, the questions shift from “How did you let this happen?” to “How can we make sure this never happens again?”
  • Stop Victimizing One Gender:
    Preventative announcements used to focus on men only as the perpetrators of sexual violence and women as the constant victim. By taking on prevention as a community, both men and women play an active role in education and prevention, creating equal say and equal responsibility.

When bystanders intervene, community takes on a new role of responsibility. Much like the effective “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” campaign to raise social awareness about the dangers of standing by while an intoxicated friend gets behind the wheel, a similar shift is possible for preventing sexual assault and violence.

Remember that communities don’t stand by and let people become victims. Your voice matters.