This article was written by Jaime Torres, a licensed professional counselor at Dallas College. All views expressed in this piece are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dallas College.
Sometimes we witness an awful event or incident, and we may not know how to react or help. As a bystander, we may feel so stunned that we freeze or decide not to get involved. It could be a situation where someone is being bullied or sexually harassed.
However, there are things we can do to intervene safely. Doing so allows us to switch from being a bystander to becoming an “upstander,” which is someone who prevents harassment or even sexual assault using safe, nonviolent methods. Below is a list of ways you can safely intervene if necessary for someone’s safety.
- You can delegate or turn to someone else for help intervening. For example, you could ask a faculty or staff member to interrupt the harassment, or you could notify campus police. The Dallas College campus police can not only intervene but also escort the targeted person to their car. If you are off campus but in public, you could ask someone like a security guard or manager to intervene. Program the Dallas College Police number (972-860-4290) into your phone so you’ll have it ready just in case.
- You can create a distraction. This redirects the attention away from the potential victim and gives them a chance to leave the situation. If you witness someone being harassed on campus, for example, you could distract the aggressor by asking them for directions. If you know the aggressor, you could ask a question about something more personal, such as, “How’d you do on your test?” or “How’s your girlfriend/boyfriend doing?” If you are with a friend, tag team by having one of you create a distraction while the other helps the targeted person escape to a safe place.
- You can be direct. Intervene and confront either the aggressor or the targeted victim. You can let the aggressor know that their behavior is unacceptable and ask them to leave the victim alone. You could also say something like, “Looks like they aren’t interested. Please leave them alone.” In such cases, it is best if you are with a group of friends or classmates or with someone in authority such as an instructor. You could also directly intervene by talking to the targeted person and asking them if they are all right or need help. If so, stay with them until help arrives or escort them to someplace safe.
For additional strategies on how you can intervene as an “upstander,” reach out to College Alliance Against Sexual Assault (CAASA) at Dallas College by emailing CAASA@dcccd.edu. We would be happy to teach you strategies on how to stay safe, safely intervene or help a victim of sexual assault or harassment. A list of additional community resources is available at the CAASA website.
You may also learn more by talking to a licensed mental health counselor at Dallas College. Dallas College offers free, confidential mental health counseling services to currently enrolled students ages 18 or older. You can request an appointment by emailing the Counseling and Psychological Services team at email@example.com or calling 972-669-6400.
Also, report instances of sexual misconduct to your Title IX Office at Dallas College. Your Title IX team can tell you more about your rights to a campus free of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual exploitation.
Haynes-Baratz, M.C., Metinyurt, T., Ling Li, Y., Gonzales, J., Bond, M.A. (2021). Bystander training for faculty: A promising approach to tackling microaggressions in the academy. New Ideas in Psychology, 63 (12). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2021.100882
Wright, R. M, (2002, July 31). Bystander intervention: 3 strategies to interrupt oppressive behavior in the moment. Colorlines. https://www.colorlines.com/articles/bystander-intervention-3-strategies-interrupt-oppressive-behavior-moment