DEI Resources - Bystander Intervention

This page has been prepared by the Georgetown University Library’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. We hope you find it useful in more deeply exploring the topic of bystander intervention. If you have comments or suggestions about this page, please contact the Library's DEI Committee.

Introduction / Definitions

Bystander Intervention is recognizing a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome. It is the willingness to take action and help someone in time of need. (Sources: C.A.R.E., LSU)

What is the Bystander Effect?

The term "bystander effect" refers to people being less likely to offer help when they are in a group than when they are alone. There are many possible reasons for this, including thinking that nothing is really wrong because no one else in the group seems concerned, or assuming that someone else will step in to offer help if there is a real problem. (Sources: Duquesne University, UNC Charlotte)

How to Intervene

It is important to consider how you might respond when you identify a potentially harmful situation or interaction. Please note that you should only directly intervene in a situation when you are confident that your safety, and the safety of others, is not at risk.

To counteract the bystander effect, it's important to do the following:

Pay Attention: Be alert to what is going on around you and to things that make you feel uncomfortable.

Decide: Does someone need help? If a situation looks concerning, do something. Don't wait for your friend, neighbor, coworker, or classmate to act.

Make It Happen: Stay calm. Here's how to help:

  • Distract: Take an indirect approach to deescalate the situation. Start a conversation with the target or find another way to draw attention away from them. Ask them for directions or drop something.
  • Delegate: Get help from someone else. Find someone in a position of authority and ask for help. Check in with the person being harassed. You can ask them if they want you to call the police.
  • Document: It can be helpful for the target to have a video of the incident. If the victim is already being aided by someone else, assess your own safety. If you are safe, go ahead and start recording. Always ask the person who was harassed what they want to do with the recording. Never post it online or use it without their permission.
  • Delay: After the incident is over, check in with the person who was harassed. Even if you can’t act in the moment, you can make a difference for the person who has been harassed by checking in on them after the fact.
  • Direct: You may want to directly respond to harassment by naming what is happening or confronting the harasser. This tactic can be risky: the harasser may redirect their abuse towards you and may escalate the situation. Before you decide to respond directly, assess the situation: Are you physically safe? Is the person being harassed physically safe? Does it seem unlikely that the situation will escalate? Can you tell if the person being harassed wants someone to speak up? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you might choose a direct response.

The above resources are derived from The 5 Ds of Bystander Intervention by Right to Be and Bystander Intervention by Duquesne University.

Learn More About Bystander Intervention

Georgetown University Resources on Bystander Intervention