Have you ever attended a chapter or committee meeting where the president or director asks a group of people to do something, yet nothing gets done? Have you ever driven by a car accident or seen smoke but not called 911 because you figured someone else already did? This phenomenon is called the bystander effect and it can plague people of all ages in a number of situations.
The bystander effect happens because of the diffusion of responsibility. We often feel that someone else must see this too and they will likely intervene. The chance of the bystander effect taking place is directly correlated to the number of people who are around. For every additional person witnessing the event, that’s a little less responsibility we feel to act. We also feel the need to behave in a socially acceptable way and therefore when we see everyone else doing nothing and going about their normal business, we may do the same. These passive actions are becoming a larger issue in today’s world with heightened incidents of public harassment and or behavior that could lead to potential sexual misconduct and/or assault.
So how can we learn to combat this phenomenon to keep ourselves and those around us safe? The answer is to participate in a Bystander Intervention Training and to make a conscious choice to intervene in situations before the issue arises. Organizations such as hollaback! and Green Dot have developed the “Five D’s” to help you intervene when you see harassment happening.
One option to stop harassment in its tracks is to directly confront the harasser. This tactic isn’t for everyone as it can turn the harasser’s attention on you and could possibly escalate the situation. According to hollaback!, the questions you must ask before directly confronting the harasser are:
- Are you physically safe?
- Is the person being harassed physically safe?
- Does it seem unlikely that the situation will escalate?
They recommend if using this technique to keep your response short and not to engage in debate or argument. Direct comments can be as simple as “What you’re doing isn’t okay and you need to stop.” or “You need to leave them alone.”
For those of us not ready to directly confront a harasser, distract might be a better option. The intention with this strategy is to create enough of an interruption or disturbance that attention can be diverted allowing the person being targeted to walk away. For example, if you see a sister looking uncomfortable talking to someone at a social or on campus, you might walk up to them and start talking about something totally random or pretend to be lost or confused so that they can assist you.
Delegation is a tactic that can be used when there is a third party around, generally with some authority that can intervene. For example, a police officer at a campus football game or an advisor at a philanthropy event can be tapped to come in and alleviate an escalating situation.
Sometimes we can’t get to others in time to prevent harassment or violation and therefore are a bit delayed in our response – that doesn’t mean we can’t still be supportive! Be willing to listen to a sister about her situation, ask if she’s okay, and support her in any way you can. This could mean walking her to the nearest counseling services office on campus, accompanying her to file a report with local police, or sharing other resources within the community.
If you witness harassment or a violation, one of the last strategies you can use to help is to document the situation. If the person being targeted is already being assisted, and again, you’re in a safe environment, it can be helpful to record the incident. This can be turned over to the person being targeted to be used how they wish. Don’t post anything on social media without their permission potentially exposing them to harassment again but on a bigger scale.
Being the subject of harassment or violation is a defeating position that can affect someone’s mental health and self-confidence. Learning and practicing safe bystander intervention can lessen the effect of this trauma and can keep our community and our sisters safer.
Participate in a Bystander Intervention Training
There are a number of options for bystander intervention training both online and in person. These trainings will help you identify potentially dangerous situations and provide you with tools to keep yourself and those around you safe.
- Stop Sexual Violence: A Sexual Violence Bystander Intervention Toolkit
- Join The Movement to End Online Harassment
If you see something, say something!
Feel empowered to stand up for yourself and those around you to protect your sisters and keep your community safe!
Sign the Pledge
Check out the pledge to “do something”, “educate myself”, and “share my experience” regarding harassment in the hopes of building a safer world.
Participate in a Green Dot Training
The full Green Dot training is split into four modules and can range from 6 hours to a full weekend.
- Introduction to Green Dot
- Recognizing Red Dots
- Identifying Self-Defining Moments
- Overcoming Obstacles.
Attend a Step Up! Facilitator Conference
Learn more about bystander intervention by becoming a Step Up! Facilitator. Topics at this training range from academics to sexual assault.
Combine this discussion with Behind Happy Faces modules
If your chapter hasn’t started already – I highly recommend completing the Behind Happy Faces modules. A lot of our discussion around mental health can have environmental factors or traumas that could have been prevented or lessened had someone stepped in. Couple your Behind Happy Faces with a bystander intervention training.
For Alumnae Chapters
Share Your Story
Sharing your story with your sisters can be empowering and cathartic. Harassment is not a new phenomenon and your strength should be celebrated! Consider what you have overcome and trust your sisters to show you support.
Research the Issues
Familiarize yourself with the resources in your community for people who are subject to harassment or violation. If you’re having a hard time finding them, consider becoming involved within the local community to better promote non-profit work or support local candidates who are focused on making the world a safer place for all.
Lindsey Forbes is an alumna of Delta Nu (U of Nevada, Reno) and a member of the Education Committee.