At many times in your life you have the ability to choose between being a passive bystander and an active bystander. Passive bystanders are aware of situations that can cause harm but active bystanders are the ones who intervene to prevent more harm from happening.
Anyone can be an active bystander. Have you ever held the door open for someone with their arms full? Have you ever helped someone collect things that they’ve dropped on the floor? That’s being an active bystander because you noticed a problem (or potential problem) and chose to do something helpful.
Active bystanders can positively impact a variety of situations including suicide, sexual assault, and dating violence when they recognize the warning signs, assume responsibility, and choose to act.
1. Recognize the Warning Signs
Warning signs are clues that something is happening or could happen that might result in harm. They can be subtle like someone buying extra drinks for a drunk date or obvious like when a fight breaks out. You don’t have to be certain about what’s going on in order to intervene, but you can ask questions for clarification or check-in with the people involved.
- Concerning behavior
- Thoughts of suicide
- Interpersonal violence
- Academic dishonesty
- High-risk drinking
- Mental health concerns
- Bias incidents
Ultimately, trust your gut; if something feels wrong, it probably is wrong.
2. Assume Responsibility
Bystanders usually want to help to help, but are sometimes stopped by a belief that “it is none of my business”, “no one else seems to be bothered”, “these things don’t happen here”, or “there’s nothing I can do”.
Active bystanders, however, believe that creating a safe environment is the responsibility of everyone in the community. Active bystanders choose to get involved for a number of reasons, including: they care about the person or people involved, they would want someone to help them, or they believe that action matters. Learning about intervention strategies with Got a Minute? helps reduce intervention barriers while promoting personal and collective accountability.
3. Choose to Act
Getting involved can look different based on what is safe for you and what you feel comfortable doing. Some situations are non-emergent, meaning you can take time figuring out what you want to do, while others are emergent and require immediate action. In either situation, there are options to intervene directly and indirectly.
- Non-Emergent and Indirect: consult with an advisor, mentor, coach, or university personnel for advice and option information, reach out to a community organization, create a distraction that interrupts whatever is happening
- Non-Emergent and Direct: ask questions to get clarification, provide resource information, options, or offer to accompany the person to a source of support
- Emergent and Indirect: let friends know what’s going on, ask someone more qualified for help, create a distraction that interrupts whatever is happening (like asking everyone to look for your ‘lost’ phone), or call emergency personnel (University Police, 911, etc)
- Emergent and Direct: separate the people involved (for example, ask someone to show you where the restroom is), recruit support from friends or those present, create a distraction that directly includes the people involved
For more information about Got a Minute?, training opportunities, or ways to get involved, like us on Facebook, friend us on Snap Chat at @WSUhealth_promo or contact the Coordinator for Health Promotion at email@example.com