Active Bystander

Student Health Center : Texas State University

What is a Bystander?

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), a bystander is a person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. A bystander can become an active bystander (will get involved) or a passive bystander (will ignore the situation).

Bystanders might be present when sexual assault or abuse occurs, or they might witness the circumstances that could lead up to these crimes (RAINN, 2016).

Bystander Intervention helps to create an environment where every member of our Texas State campus community feels valued and safe.
SAV believes we ALL play a critical role in identifying situations that are potentially harmful, and we ALL play a role in intervening if something doesn't look or feel “right.”

The Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect is the phenomenon in which someone is less likely to intervene in a problem situation when others are present. The larger the number present, the less likely any of them will get involved.

Ways to Intervene

Learning how to intervene in a way that fits the situation and keeps you safe is vital to becoming an active bystander. Your actions could help prevent someone from being a victim of sexual violence. Remember to follow the 4 D’s: Consider applying any of the following intervention strategies from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN):

  • Distraction: Interrupt the conversation with a diversion, such as, “Let’s get pizza” or “This party is lame. Let’s go somewhere else.” Spill your drink or start an activity that draws other people in, including the person you are concerned about.
  • Direct Action: Talk directly to the person who might be in trouble. You could ask, “Would you like me to stay with you?”  or “Do you need help?” It is also important to talk directly to the person who may cause harm. You could ask, “I do not think it’s appropriate to share those videos.”
  • Delegate: Approaching a situation alone can be intimidating. Enlist another person or other people to support you, there is power in numbers. For example, you could enlist a friend of the person you are concerned about. “Your friend looks like they’ve had a lot of drink. Could you check on them?” Or you could ask others to join you when approaching the person who could cause harm. You could start with caring and non-critical, “Hey, as your friend I don’t think they’re sober enough to have sex and we should find their friends.”
  • Delay: Pay attention to your safety. If a situation is too dangerous to challenge in the moment, walk away and wait or get help. Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to refer to a person with more authority, such as a RA, campus security, or an employee. Calling police for many communities (like Black people and immigrants) does not feel the safest option for them. Check in with the victim later and see if they are OK and if you can support them in any way.

Video options:

Ways bystanders can intervene- TW // Sexual Assault.

How to speak up in the community against racist attacks.

Standing up to anti-Asian racism.


Derogatory language contributes to a culture of sexual violence. A rape joke, for example, can minimize someone’s experience as well as normalize that type of behavior. If you hear a friend use the word rape casually, or tell a homophobic, sexist, or racist joke, you could:

Reframe: Respond as if you are coming from a place of concern for that friend. For instance, you might say something like “Hey, some people here may be offended with you saying that type of joke. I just don’t want people to get a wrong impression of you.”
Use “I” statements: When using “I” statements, you want to state your feelings, name the behavior, and state how you want the person to respond. This focuses on your feelings rather than on criticizing the other person. “I feel really uncomfortable when you talk about hooking up with drunk girls. I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t talk about that, at least in front of me.”
Be an active bystander. Whether or not you are able to change the outcome, by stepping in, you are helping to change to way people think about their role in preventing sexual violence (RAINN, 2016).