Bystander Intervention

A bystander, or witness, is someone who sees a situation but may or may not know what to do, may think others will act instead, or may be afraid to do something. Bystander education programs teach potential witnesses safe and positive ways that they can act to prevent or intervene when there is a risk for sexual violence.

This approach gives community members specific roles that they can use in preventing sexual violence, including naming and stopping situations that could lead to sexual violence before it happens, stepping in during an incident, and speaking out against ideas and behaviors that support sexual violence. It also gives individuals the skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors after an assault has taken place. Research shows that this technique is a promising way to help prevent the widespread problem of sexual violence across campuses and other communities.

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Risk Factors

  • Drugs and Alcohol: Drugs and alcohol are the number one factor that leads to non-stranger (date/acquaintance) rape. Many victims say that their ability to react was impaired because they were drinking or taking drugs, or that their date had been drinking and became sexually aggressive.
  • Different Expectations: Acquaintance rape often occurs as a result of misunderstood sex role behaviors and/or communication styles. Don't assume that one form of sexual contact opens the door to other sexual contacts. Also, communicate your sexual expectations with your partner. If you think you are getting mixed messages, ask.
  • Believing No Means Yes: People who regard sex as "scoring" often believe "no" can be changed to "yes" with a little more pressure or force. Acquaintance rape often masquerades as seduction, with the perpetrators rarely feeling they have done anything wrong. They believe that pressure is a legitimate way to get what they want.

Risk Reduction

Although sexual violence is never your fault, here are some suggestions to help you reduce your risk of being assaulted.

  • Trust your gut. If you don't feel comfortable in a situation, leave.
  • Be in charge of your own life. Don't put yourself in a situation where you have to rely on other people to take care of you. Also, when on a date, don't feel you "owe" that person anything.
  • Be cautious inviting someone into your home or going to someone else's home. Three out of 5 sexual assaults occur in the victim's home or the home of an acquaintance.
  • Do not mix sexual decisions with drugs and alcohol. Your ability to make smart decisions is hampered when you are drunk or high.
  • When going out with someone new, don't feel you have to go alone. Go on a group date or meet in a public place.
  • Be aware of date rape drugs. Don't accept beverages from open containers and don't leave your drink unattended.
  • Avoid falling for lines such as "If you loved me you'd have sex." If your partner loved you, they would respect your feelings and wait until you are ready.
  • Avoid individuals who:
    • Don't listen to you.
    • Ignore personal space boundaries.
    • Make you feel guilty or accuse you of being "uptight" for resisting sexual advances.
    • Express sexists attitudes and jokes.
    • Act jealous or possessive.
    • Be assertive. Respect yourself enough not to do anything you don't want to do. Your opinions matter, and when you say "no," your date should stop.