February 18, 2021

Bystander Effect & Intervention for Youth

Written for Teen Dating Violence Action Month (TDVAM) 2021 by the Prevention Team

The bystander effect is a social psychological theory that states that individuals are less likely to offer help if there are other individuals around. Status and appearance can change how long it takes people to react and offer help. The likelihood of individuals offering help also decreases as the number of bystanders increases. Individuals look around to see how the people around them are reacting, even if they want to act upon intervening they hesitate because of the group’s reaction or therefore lack of.

Of course, social norms can be broken. You do have the power to intervene and stop the abuse. Before we talk about how we do this, let’s watch this short video, The bystander.

At the beginning of the video, we see people and animals. We see that some people are walking around with tails, and if we look closely, we notice that Josh doesn’t have a tail. This clip is showcasing how Josh hasn’t been a bystander to violence yet. When he becomes a bystander, we see him not sure of what to do. He’s conflicted, worried for his own safety, and he sees he could get hurt if he directly intervenes. He doesn’t know that there’s an alternative way to intervene and help the victim, so he decides it’s best to walk away. As he leaves, we see he’s grown a tail.

The tail is a status marker in this video, showing us how his silence and lack of intervention makes him complicit to violence.

Bystander Intervention

Now let’s talk about bystander intervention. It’s more than stepping in when you see an act of violence, or helping someone who is in danger or in need of help. Bystander intervention encourages us all to challenge social and cultural norms, to break away from being a witness and doing nothing. When we see violence and do nothing our silence is complicity.

Bystander interventions empower us to be the person to step up and try to help. It encourages us to seek help, problem solve, and challenge social norms. There’s four different types of bystander intervention, each method is either based on our comfort level or the situation itself.

Intervention methods give us the opportunity to intervene while also deciding what’s the safest possible way to do so. These are categorized as the 4 D’s of bystander intervention.

Direct – Intervene directly to make the parties aware that there is a problem and it has been noticed.

  • Example statements:
    • “Hey, are you okay?”
    • “You’re hurting them.”
    • “That was uncalled for, why would you do that?”

Distract – Interrupt the situation without directly confronting the parties involved

  • Example statements:
    • “Hi, sorry. I’m new at this school and I’m having trouble finding class 213, can you show me or tell me where to go?”
    • “Do you know where I can find this building?”
    • “Is there a coffee shop nearby?”
    • “Hey, sorry, do you know what time it is?”

Delegate – Identify other individuals who can assist you in safely intervening.

  • Example Statements:
    • “Ms. R, it looks like someone in the hallway could really use your help.”
    • “Hi Officer, there’s a couple arguing by the employee bathroom.”
    • “Hey, is there a security guard we can call?”

Delay – Check on potentially troubling situations later when you are not sure if the situation is safe or you do not feel safe immediately intervening.

  • Example statements:
    • “Hey, I saw what happened earlier, you don’t deserve that.”
    • “Are you okay?”
    • “I’m here for you if you want to talk about what happened.



More Resources

Check out our related blog “Advocate at Large, A Story of Bystander Intervention” to hear a personal narrative and read more on becoming an active bystander.

February has been set aside to raise awareness and generate action around teen dating violence with Teen Dating Violence Action Month (TDVAM). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 26% of women and 15% of men experienced intimate partner violence for the first time before age 18.

We all deserve safe, healthy, and loving relationships. To learn more about TDVAM 2021, visit ywcaspokane.org/tdvam-2021/

Join us on February 26 from 10:00am – 11:00am (PST) for our Teen Dating Info Session. At this free and online event, you will learn more about how teens experience dating abuse and how to be prepared if your friend or child is experiencing abuse.


By: Jemma Riedel-Johnson

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