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What is a bystander?

A bystander is a person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. Bystanders might be present when sexual assault or abuse occurs, or they could witness the circumstances that lead up to these crimes.

What is bystander intervention?

Bystander Intervention is recognizing a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome.

The bystander role includes interrupting situations that could lead to assault before it happens or during an incident; speaking out against social norms that support sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking; and developing skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors.

This will look different depending on the situation and how you’re comfortable taking action: whether directly intervening, creating a distraction, or finding someone who has more authority to act in the situation.

Your actions matter

Whether or not you were able to change the outcome, by stepping in you are helping to change the way people think about their role in preventing sexual assault.

Speak up in a situation to directly address the aggressor, calling out the issue and acting to defuse it.

  • Talk directly to the person who might be in trouble.
  • Ask questions like, “Who did you come here with?” or “Would you like me to stay with you?

If you’re addressing the issue head-on seems scary, you can always create a distraction to remove the uncomfortable party from the situation and prevent it from escalating.

  • Do what you can to interrupt the situation. A distraction can give the person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.
  • Cut off the conversation with a diversion like, “Let’s get pizza, I’m starving,” or “This party is stinks. Let’s try somewhere else.”
  • Start an activity that is draws other people in, like a game, a debate, or a dance party.

There are sometimes situations best handled by those with more authority or expertise, whether that’s an advisor, a coach, or even the police. Looping in people better equipped to defuse an unsafe situation is just as important as stepping in yourself.

  • Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you are concerned for someone else’s safety.
  • Ask someone to come with you to approach the person at risk. When it comes to expressing concern, sometimes there is power in numbers.
  • Ask someone to intervene in your place. For example, you could ask someone who knows the person at risk to escort them to the bathroom.
  • Enlist the friend of the person you’re concerned about. “Your friend looks like they’ve had a lot to drink. Can you check on them?”

Reducing the risk of sexual assault

It’s important to make a plan and take steps to prevent crimes from occurring, including sexual violence. No tips can absolutely guarantee safety—sexual violence can happen to anyone, and it’s not the only crime that can occur on a college campus. It’s important to remember that if you are sexually assaulted on campus it is not your fault—help and support are available. These tips are adapted from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), Staying Safe on Campus.

Increasing on-campus safety

Who should you contact if you or a friend needs help? Where should you go? 

When you’re moving around on campus or in the surrounding neighborhood, be aware of your surroundings. Consider inviting a friend to join you or asking campus security for an escort. If you’re alone, only use headphones in one ear to stay aware of your surroundings.

Many social media sites, like Facebook and Foursquare, use geolocation to publicly share your location. Consider disabling this function and reviewing other social media settings.

A college environment can foster a false sense of security. They may feel like fast friends, but give people time earn your trust before relying on them.

Spend some time thinking about back-up plans for potentially sticky situations. If your phone dies, do you have a few numbers memorized to get help? Do you have emergency cash in case you can’t use a credit card? If you drive, is there a spare key hidden, gas in your car, and a set of jumper cables?

Lock your door and windows when you’re asleep and when you leave the room. If people constantly prop open the main door to the dorm or apartment, tell security or a trusted authority figure.

Safety in social settings

It’s possible to relax and have a good time while still making safety a priority. Consider these tips for staying safe and looking out for your friends in social settings.

If you’re going to a party, go with people you trust. Agree to watch out for each other and plan to leave together. If your plans change, make sure to touch base with the other people in your group. Don’t leave someone stranded in an unfamiliar or unsafe situation.

Don’t leave your drink unattended, and watch out for your friends’ drinks if you can. If you go to the bathroom or step outside, take the drink with you or toss it out. Drink from unopened containers or drinks you watched being made and poured. It’s not always possible to know if something has been added to someone’s drink. In drug-facilitated sexual assault, a perpetrator could use a substance that has no color, taste, or odor.

Keep track of how many drinks you’ve had, and be aware of your friends’ behavior. If one of you feels extremely tired or more drunk than you should, you may have been drugged. Leave the party or situation and find help immediately.

If you want to exit a situation immediately and are concerned about frightening or upsetting someone, it’s okay to lie. You are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, pressured, or threatened. You can also lie to help a friend leave a situation that you think may be dangerous. Some excuses you could use are needing to take care of another friend or family member, an urgent phone call, not feeling well, and having to be somewhere else by a certain time.

Trust your instincts. If you notice something that doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Learn more about how to keep your friends safe in social settings.


Contact Title IX Coordinator

The Title IX /EEO Coordinator or Deputy Coordinator can address faculty, staff and student concerns related to sexual harassment, sexual assault and other actions that fall within the college' obligations under Title IX. In addition, contact any Taskforce Member.

Title IX / EEO Coordinator, Vice President of Foundation, HR & Legal Affairs

  Kendra Sprague
  Administration Building Room 115
  (360) 442-2121
  title9@lowercolumbia.edu

Title IX / EEO Deputy Coordinator, Vice President of Student Services

  Sue Orchard
  Admissions Center Room 159
  (360) 442-2301
  title9@lowercolumbia.edu

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