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Bystander Culture – think Kitty Genovese. Think Virginia Tech. Think What You Can Do to Create.

August 6, 2010

A busy summer at BCC and looks to be a very busy fall.  Took a break from the blog but hope to be posting more regularly now that the fall semester is gearing up.

A friend sent the following piece in an email on the same day some of us at BCC were talking about trying to better create a culture on campus where people watch out for each other even if it means “tattling” on someone else who might be doing something that hurts another person (or themselves).  For the next few posts I’ll be including some video and other pieces that are about how to create a “bystander culture”.  Read on.

What is a Bystander?

photo by Dzz


Bystanders are the largest group of people involved in violence – they greatly outnumber both the perpetrators and the victims. Bystanders have a range of involvement in assaults. Some know that a specific assault is happening or will happen, some see an assault or potential assault in progress, and some know that assaults do happen. Regardless of how close to the assault they are, bystanders have the power stop assaults from occurring and to get help for people who have been victimized.

Take the example of the typical perpetrator of college sexual assaults. Most are men who are outwardly charming, have a lot of friends, and don’t consider their actions to be wrong (Lisak, 2002). People who know this person (bystanders), and are potentially friends with this person, often do not want women they care about (sisters, friends, etc.) to date or hang around this man. When his behavior is directed at other women whom they are not close to, they often do not think it is a situation in which they need to get involved. Bystanders often know that this person’s behavior is inappropriate and potentially illegal, but may not know what they can do to make a difference.

We have all been bystanders in our lives, and we will all be in situations where we are bystanders in the future. The choice, then, becomes whether we are going to be active bystanders who speak up and say something, or whether we will be passive bystanders who stand by and say nothing.

We are not advocating that people risk their own safety in order to be an active bystander. Remember, there is a range of actions that are appropriate, depending on the situation. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, calling 911 is the best action a bystander can take.

As opposed to being the bystander who stands by and does nothing, we want to create a culture of bystanders who are actively engaged in the prevention of violence.

Power of bystanders

Has anyone stopped a friend from going home with someone when the friend was drunk or high? Has anyone tried to stop a friend/teammate/peer from taking advantage of someone or doing something else inappropriate? Both of these actions are examples of bystanders using their power to stop violence.

What else can bystanders do to make a difference?

  • Believe someone who discloses a sexual assault, abusive relationship, or experience with stalking or cyberstalking.
  • Be respectful of yourself and others. Make sure any sexual act is OK with your partner if you initiate.
  • Watch out for your friends and fellow Hokies – if you see someone who looks like they are in trouble, ask if they are okay. If you see a friend doing something shady, say something.
  • Speak up – if someone says something offensive, derogatory, or abusive, let them know that behavior is wrong and you don’t want to be around it. Don’t laugh at racist, sexist, homophobic jokes. Challenge your peers to be respectful.

Bystander Intervention Playbook

Bystander Intervention Playbook Cover

Need some tips for intervening in a potential sexual assault, realtionship violence, or stalking/cyberstalking situation? Download our Bystander Intervention Playbook for some easy to use suggestions.

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