Don't just stand there ... do something

  • Published
  • By Ann Beem
  • Whiteman Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
Are you a bystander? A bystander is someone in a crowd who "stands by" and doesn't do anything when they notice a problematic situation or behavior even though they may find the behavior to be offensive. A bystander does not protect the values of safety, trust, and honor that are central to our community.

Sexual assault does not happen in a vacuum. How many times have you been at a party or with a group of friends and witnessed something that made you feel uneasy?

Maybe it was someone pushing another person to leave with them, or someone encouraging someone else to drink way more than they should, or maybe you saw a friend slap his/her date. What would you do?

You might be thinking, "That's none of my business." Or, you may think saying something would mean "sticking your nose in someone else's business." Many people feel reluctant to intervene in a situation because:
-     They are afraid of making a scene or feel as though a person would ask for help if it were needed.
-     No one else is helping; it must not be a problem
-     People who are sober don't think this is a problem, maybe I'm wrong?
-     My friend is really responsible and he's not intervening ... why should I?
-     Many people do not intervene in a potentially dangerous situation because they are looking to others for cues on how to act or they believe someone else will intervene.
If you stay silent you may be part of the problem.

Survivors of sexual assault and interpersonal violence are often silent about the abuse they endure. Abuse rarely happens in a room full of people, but bystanders often understand warning signs or see red flags that a situation is about to become violent or abusive. 

Stepping in, distracting the abuser could possibly prevent or minimize the abuse, keep the person safe from escalating danger and let him or her know that help is available. 

Be on the look-out for potentially dangerous situations and learn how to recognize indications of potentially dangerous situations. Here are some examples of "red flag" behaviors related to sexual assault:
-     Inappropriate touching
-     Suggestive remarks
-     Testing boundaries 
-      Disregarding set boundaries 
-      Inappropriate intimacy 
-      Attempts to isolate someone 
-      Pressuring someone to drink 
-      Violent behaviors
-     Targeting someone who is visibly impaired 

A good way to assess the situation is to ask yourself, "If I were in this situation, would I want someone to help me?" 

If a situation makes us uncomfortable, we may try to dismiss it as not being a problem. You may tell yourself that the other person will be fine, that he or she is not as intoxicated as you think, or that the person is able to defend him/herself. This is not a solution! The person may need your help more than you think. 

When in doubt, trust your gut. Instincts are there for a reason. When a situation makes us feel uncomfortable, it is a generally a good indicator that something is not right. 

It is better to be wrong about the situation than do nothing. 

To be clear: Intervening is not about making decisions for people or it doesn't mean that you have to physically separate the individuals or get in a fight. It could be as simple as interrupting the situation by asking something as non-threatening as "Where is the bathroom?", "Could you tell me what time it is?" or even asking directly, "Are you OK?"

This interruption could provide an opportunity for someone who is feeling cornered to slip away from the situation or change the course of events that might have been about to happen. Your concern and action may be all that needed in that situation to prevent that person from becoming a victim.

The point is, if you see or know of a violent or abusive situation do something? Break the silence! It could change the course of someone's life forever.

For more information on bystander intervention, sexual assault prevention, or to report a sexual assault call the Whiteman Sexual Assault Program Response Office at 687-2324 or call 687-7272 to reach the 24/7 confidential hotline.