Ohio University

Bystander Intervention

After decades of campus violence-prevention efforts showing minimal effects in disrupting the perpetration of gender-based violence and the culture that allows it to flourish, researchers discovered that the implementation of bystander intervention education began to show promising results. 

Bystander intervention is a social science model that encourages witnesses to actively address a situation that they deem problematic.

A bystander is anyone who witnesses a scenario in which harm is imminent or who receives a disclosure of an incident after the fact. It is the responsibility of a bystander to use effective, active means of intervention to disrupt the harm from occurring or de-escalating a situation. Ohio University utilizes the Four D’s Model of Bystander Intervention:

  • Direct: Get involved!
  • Delegate: Find someone to help!
  • Distract: Disrupt the situation!
  • Delay: Respond with empathy, share appropriate resources, and hold space with someone who is disclosing an act of violence.

It is important to note the multiple uses of this bystander intervention model. Not only can the Four D’s of bystander intervention be used in conjunction with each other, they can also be used across a wide variety of scenarios in which harm is occurring. For example, we often associate bystander intervention with the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, but the same set of skills can also be used to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis, bullying, hazing, harassment, microaggressions or bias violence, self-medication, etc.  

Power-Based Personal Violence is an umbrella term under which many harmful behaviors and attitudes may fall, and all of them are appropriate scenarios for active bystander intervention.

We encourage bystanders to intervene early and often. It is important that we do not wait for the moment of escalation or crisis to intervene if we witness something. We, as bystanders, need to pay attention to our surroundings so that we can notice and intervene when we see lower-level, but still harmful behaviors that contribute to violence.  For example, we should intervene when someone tells a sexist joke because rape culture normalizes violence that is more explicit and increases the chance of victim blaming. We should intervene when we observe a microaggression because this behavior normalizes escalated racist, transphobic, homophobic, ablest, and/or xenophobic behavior and attitudes.

The power of bystander intervention is that it is both reactive and proactive. Reactive bystander intervention involves intervention in the moment to disrupt active harm. Proactive bystander intervention involves setting new cultural norms that tell those we interact with that violence is not tolerated and that we all have a part to play in an anti-violence movement.  The former prevents harm from happening in the moment, but the latter seeks to drive culture change and prevent violence from happening in the first place. Both are equally important as Ohio University continues to foster an environment that supports survivors, normalizes intervention, and invests in the wellbeing of its students and community.