Bystander Intervention

At Bakersfield College, we believe that ending sexual violence is a collective responsibility shared by all members of our community, students, faculty, and staff, alike. Although Bakersfield College has many professional staff members available to help those who have experienced sexual violence, stopping sexual violence requires everyone's active participation. Whether you are a first-year student or a tenured faculty, you can commit to fighting sexual violence as an active bystander.

What does it mean to be an active bystander?

An active bystander is someone who steps in, speaks up, or reaches out in situations that are, or could be, harmful to a specific person or a group of people.

To be an active bystander against sexual violence means to combat sexual violence through words and actions. Active bystanders are able to respond to situations in which sexual violence is being enacted, perpetuated, condoned, or made light of. They see themselves as responsible for the safety and well-being of those around them and have the skills to act when necessary.

Although being an active bystander may seem daunting, it can include a wide range of actions and incorporate a wide range of personal skills and preferences. Being an active bystander does not look the same for everyone, but everyone can do something to end sexual violence.

What can I do?

  1. The first step to becoming an active bystander is recognizing situations in which intervention is necessary. Often, this means taking note of situations that others condone, overlook, or actively ignore. These situations include:
    • High-risk situations
      • Factors that may increase the risk of sexual violence include: high alcohol consumption, isolation from friends and peers, and cultural pressure to hook-up. It is important to note that none of these factors causes or excuses sexual violence, but each can increase the likelihood of sexual violence happening.
    • Situations in which sexual violence is happening
      • Examples of sexual violence that you might directly witness include: cat-calling, name-calling, and other forms of verbal harassment; unwanted touching, like grabbing or fondling; sexual contact being initiated with someone who is too drunk to consent; and stalking or cyber-stalking.
      • You might also be able to deduce that sexual violence is occurring through auditory cues, like screaming or other commotion.
    • Situations in which sexual violence has already happened
      • Some signs that a friend has experienced sexual violence and may need help include change in attitude, appetite, weight, and/or class attendance or participation. If intimate partner violence is occurring, you might notice physical signs,like bruises or scrapes, or emotional signs, like lowered self-esteem and guardedness.
      • Or, a friend may openly disclose an incident of sexual violence to you and directly request your assistance.
    • Situations in which attitudes supporting sexual violence are being expressed
      • Sexual violence is supported and perpetuated by attitudes and actions that excuse it, rationalize it, deny it, make light of it, or normalize it. When people tell rape jokes, say that a rape victim “asked for it,” argue that rape is fabricated by people who want attention, or use a “boys will be boys” logic to excuse perpetrators of sexual violence, they are fostering a climate in which sexual violence is more likely to occur.
  2. The second step is determining the level of involvement with which you are comfortable. Once you have decided that a situation calls for intervention, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:
    • Is it safe to intervene?
      • Does the situation pose a significant physical threat to you or others involved? If so, you should immediately call the police (911) or College Safety: (661) 395-4554.
    • Can I handle this on my own?
      • Even if a situation does not pose significant physical threat, you may still want help. If you do not think you can handle a situation on your own, you can look around for other bystanders who might help you intervene, or you can contact any of our campus or community resources for help in addressing the issue. Turning to campus and community resources can be particularly helpful when you are trying to intervene in an ongoing problem (like intimate partner violence).
  3. The third step is deciding on an appropriate intervention and carrying it out. Interventions can range significantly in their intensity and directness. Here, again, you will want to assess your personal comfort level.
    • As already noted, delegating responsibility and utilizing campus and community resources will sometimes be the best solution, particularly if you feel like you aren't equipped to address the issue.
      • If you hear violent arguing near to you, you might want to notify College Safety (661) 395-4554.
      • If you witness sexual harassment taking place in the classroom, you may want to alert the professor.
      • If your friend's partner, whom you barely know, is encouraging excessive drinking at a party, you could ask your friend to pull him aside and address the situation.
      • If a friend has experienced sexual violence, you can be a positive support person by listening and affirming, but you will also want to direct your friend to the professional services available on campus. Having a thorough knowledge of available resources and campus procedures is integral to being an active bystander against sexual violence.
    • Some interventions can involve redirecting attention or creating a distraction. This kind of an intervention may feel comfortable to people who recognize a risky situation but do not want to attract a lot of attention or are not used to being confrontational.
      • If you notice a friend of yours is flirting too aggressively with someone (or initiating sexual contact with someone who is too intoxicated to consent), you can distract your friend by inviting them to go somewhere else with you.
      • If you notice that a friend looks uncomfortable while talking to someone on campus or at a party, you can join the conversation and/or help your friend exit the situation.
      • If you think that a friend has had too much to drink at a party, you can say that you are heading home and offer to walk them home.
      • If you are with a group of students making jokes about a known or suspected incident of sexual assault, you can change the subject.
    • Other interventions will be more direct. These kinds of actions can go a long way toward addressing the culture that supports sexual violence.
      • If you hear someone cat-calling students as they walk by, you can tell that person that what they are doing constitutes sexual harassment and is against school policy.
      • If you notice a friend is leaving a party with someone who looks too drunk to consent to sexual activity, you can pull your friend aside and share your concern with them. You can remind them that they are dealing with someone who is too drunk to be a fully informed and willing sexual partner.
      • If you notice a friend talking in a disrespectful way to their significant other, you can pull your friend aside and have a direct conversation about their behavior.
      • If you overhear a classmate making a rape joke, you can say that you do not find it funny and explain why.

The most important part about being an active bystander is making the commitment to notice and respond to sexual violence. Whether you decide to intervene in ways that are subtle or direct, your actions are sending the message that you have taken a stand against sexual violence, and this is essential to ending sexual violence.