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Preventing sexual assault

Be an Active Bystander

Look out for fellow Boilermakers. Active bystander intervention discourages attitudes and behaviors that support sexual assault and other harmful behavior. When you witness a potential sexual assault or other behavior that promotes a culture of violence, don’t assume someone else will help or that it’s none of your business; speak up, step in and seek help.

The most important element in bystander intervention is getting involved. Never assume that just because other people saw or heard what was happening that someone else intervened to help. In crowds, diffusion of responsibility, in other words assuming someone else will do something, usually means that no one does anything. If you don't do something, maybe no one will.

Often times the fear of embarrassment, of making someone angry, or of losing a friend may cause you to hesitate. By taking action you are supporting a culture of respect and responsibility. Most people who have found themselves in the role of an active bystander are glad they stepped in to prevent violence. The person you watch out for today may be the person who watches out for you tomorrow.

Assess the situation and make your safety and the well-being of others a priority. Actively enlist the help of others so that you are not alone. If you recognize a problem and feel that you can intervene without putting yourself in danger, step in to prevent the harassment or violence from occurring. The goal of intervening is to prevent violence without causing further threat or harm. Contact the police if the situation escalates or if anyone is in imminent danger.

Remember to make your safety and the well-being of others a priority. Review the active bystander intervention strategies below.

Speak up

  • If you hear derogatory jokes, don’t laugh, and say that the language is wrong and offensive.
  • If you hear degrading or abusive language, say that the behavior is unacceptable and disrespectful.
  • If you hear someone planning to take sexual advantage of another person, tell them the behavior is illegal.
  • Check in on a person you see being harassed to let them know they’re not alone. Ask “are you ok?” or “do you need help?”

Step in

  • Distract the potential perpetrator to safely remove the other individual from the situation.
    • Interrupt and change the topic of conversation.
    • Lie if you have to:
      • “Someone is looking for you outside.”
      • “I lost my phone, can I borrow yours?”
    • Ask the potential perpetrator what time it is or for directions.
    • If a friend is being targeted, call their cell phone to give them an out.

Seek help

  • Contact the police if the situation escalates or if anyone is in imminent danger.
  • Tell others about your plan to intervene to gain support.
  • If you can’t help, tell someone who can, such as another friend or an RA.
  • Approach another friend with a plan to separate the pair. For example:
    • “You tell her you need to talk to her and I’ll ask him to show me where the bathroom is.”