Stop Abuse @ Virginia Tech


Be an Active Bystander


What is a Bystander?

Bystanders are the largest group of people involved in violence – they greatly outnumber both the perpetrators and the victims. Bystanders have a range of involvement in assaults. Some know that a specific assault is happening or will happen, some see an assault or potential assault in progress, and some know that assaults do happen. Regardless of how close to the assault they are, bystanders have the power stop assaults from occurring and to get help for people who have been victimized.

Take the example of the typical perpetrator of college sexual assaults. Most are men who are outwardly charming, have a lot of friends, and don't consider their actions to be wrong (Lisak, 2002). People who know this person (bystanders), and are potentially friends with this person, often do not want women they care about (sisters, friends, etc.) to date or hang around this man. When his behavior is directed at other women whom they are not close to, they often do not think it is a situation in which they need to get involved. Bystanders often know that this person’s behavior is inappropriate and potentially illegal, but may not know what they can do to make a difference.

We have all been bystanders in our lives, and we will all be in situations where we are bystanders in the future. The choice, then, becomes whether we are going to be active bystanders who speak up and say something, or whether we will be passive bystanders who stand by and say nothing.

We are not advocating that people risk their own safety in order to be an active bystander. Remember, there is a range of actions that are appropriate, depending on the situation. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, calling 911 is the best action a bystander can take.

As opposed to being the bystander who stands by and does nothing, we want to create a culture of bystanders who are actively engaged in the prevention of violence.

Power of bystanders

Has anyone stopped a friend from going home with someone when the friend was drunk or high? Has anyone tried to stop a friend/teammate/peer from taking advantage of someone or doing something else inappropriate? Both of these actions are examples of bystanders using their power to stop violence. 

What else can bystanders do to make a difference?

  • Believe someone who discloses a sexual assault, abusive relationship, or experience with stalking or cyberstalking.
  • Be respectful of yourself and others. Make sure any sexual act is OK with your partner if you initiate.
  • Watch out for your friends and fellow Hokies – if you see someone who looks like they are in trouble, ask if they are okay. If you see a friend doing something shady, say something.
  • Speak up – if someone says something offensive, derogatory, or abusive, let them know that behavior is wrong and you don’t want to be around it. Don’t laugh at racist, sexist, homophobic jokes. Challenge your peers to be respectful.
  • Get involved – apply to be a SAVES peer educator, volunteer for the Women's Resource Center of the NRV, or join another campus or community group working on these issues.

Bystander Intervention Playbook

Bystander Intervention Playbook Cover

Need some tips for intervening in a potential sexual assault, realtionship violence, or stalking/cyberstalking situation? Download our Bystander Intervention Playbook for some easy to use suggestions.

Other Bystander Intervention Strategies

(Adapted from Men Can Stop Rape,, 2006)

“I” statements 

  • Three parts: 1. State your feelings, 2. Name the behavior, 3. State how you want the person to respond. This focuses on your feelings rather than criticizing the other person.
  • Example: “I feel           when you               . Please don’t do that anymore.”

Silent Stare 

  • Remember, you don’t have to speak to communicate.
  • Sometimes a disapproving look can be far more powerful than words.


  • Reduces the tension of an intervention and makes it easier for the person to hear you.
  • Do not undermine what you say with too much humor. Funny doesn’t mean unimportant.

Group Intervention 

  • There is safety and power in numbers.
  • Best used with someone who has a clear pattern of inappropriate behavior where many examples can be presented as evidence of his problem.

Bring it Home 

  • Prevents someone from distancing himself from the impact of his actions.
    • Example: “I hope no one ever talks about you like that.”
  • Prevents someone from dehumanizing his targets.
    • Example: What if someone said your girlfriend deserved to be raped or called your mother a whore?”

We’re friends, right….?

  • Reframes the intervention as caring and non-critical.
  • Example: “Hey Chad… your friend I’ve gotta tell you that getting a girl drunk to have sex with her isn’t cool, and could get you in a lot of trouble. Don’t do it.”


  • Snaps someone out of their “sexist comfort zone.”
    • Example: Ask a man harassing a woman on the street for directions or the time.
  • Allows a potential target to move away and/or to have other friends intervene.
    • Example: Spill your drink on the person or interrupt and start a conversation with the person.



Grant statement: This project was supported by grant # 2005-WA-AX-0020 awarded by the Violence Against Women Office, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of View in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.



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Women's Center

206 Washington Street (0270)
Blacksburg, VA 24061
(540) 231-7806 (8am-5pm, M-F)

After hours, call the WRC 24-hour hotline at (540) 639-1123

Student Conduct

New Hall West Suite 141 (0428)
Blacksburg, VA 24061
(540) 231-3790 (8am-5pm, M-F)

VT Police Dept

Sterrett Facilities Complex (0523)
Blacksburg, VA 24061
(540) 231-6411 (24 hrs)

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