Bystander Intervention Strategies

Together, we can all work to free our campus and the world of abuse and interpersonal violence. Everyone in the Syracuse University community has the potential to be a prosocial bystander and intervene when faced with a possibly dangerous situation.  We know that every person has different comfort levels and that their comfort and perceived safety can be impacted by their identities and the context of a situation. This is why we would like to provide the list of strategies below, so every person can choose a strategy to intervene safely when a risky or potentially dangerous situation arises.

  • Being Direct: This strategy means calling out a negative action that is concerning or unsafe. For example, if someone is trying to take an intoxicated person home with them, you can directly tell that person, “Hey, I don’t think your friend is sober enough to consent, I am worried about them, and you should not be going home with them.”
  • Bringing in the Professionals: If things become too serious, contact someone that is in charge or emergency personnel like a Resident Assistant, the homeowner, Counseling in the Barnes Center at The Arch, Syracuse University Ambulance, Department of Public Safety, or the police. It is important to know our own limitations and ensure our safety as well. For example, if you notice that someone is following another person and sending them threatening messages (stalking), you can call the Department of Public Safety or police for help.
  • Code Words: It might be easier in some situations to have a code word or phrase, planned ahead of time, with your friends to indicate that you or someone else in the group feels uncomfortable and needs help. For example, you and your friends might decide that saying “I could really go for some Jamba Juice” to each other means that someone is uncomfortable, and the group will all leave together or changes the discussion with no questions asked.
  • Distraction: One way to defuse a situation is to divert attention away from the immediate problem. This could mean different things like pretending to trip to draw attention away from the problem or deescalating a situation by pointing out a cute dog passing by with its owner.
  • Group Support: Since it can be daunting to stand up and address a problem by yourself, you might feel safer or more empowered by doing so in a group. If you notice that something is wrong or someone’s behavior or language is problematic, you can talk to a friend or group of people, maybe even strangers, about the issue and intervene together.
  • Humor: You can cheer people up by making light of problematic language or behavior while also deescalating the situation. However, it is important to make sure your language is appropriate given the context.
  • Make It Personal: This involves relating the situation to a person’s own life, therefore making it personal. For example, if you hear someone say something discriminatory about someone else, you can say in response, “How would you feel if people made that comment about you?” or “What would your mother think of you saying that?”
  • Shift the Focus: Shift the focus to yourself by using “I” statements to avoid being confrontational about the other person’s actions. An example of this might be telling your friend, “Hey, I think what you said can be hurtful to other people, and it makes me feel uncomfortable.”
  • Showing Support: This strategy lets someone know that you are there for them if they need help or assistance. For example, you might notice that your friend who recently experienced a loss is becoming withdrawn. You can reach out to your friend by asking them if there is anything you can do to support them and letting them know that you are there for them.

Remember that the person accountable for interpersonal violence or abuse is always the one perpetrating the violence or abuse. It might not always be plausible for us to intervene in a situation, so it is important that we assess whether we feel safe intervening and whether or not we are putting ourselves in danger by getting involved. Nevertheless, we can make a positive impact and reduce harm through being prosocial bystanders. If it is believed that you or someone else is in immediate danger, please contact the Department of Public Safety at 315.443.2224 or call 911.