How to Be an Active Bystander 101

By Taylor Rapalyea, BARCC Marketing & Communications Coordinator

This post originally appeared on the BARCC blog on December 27, 2017.

Graphic that says, “it’s about stopping violence before it happens.”

With the international conversation focused on #MeToo/#YoTambien/#BalanceTonPorc and issues of sexual violence, more people are looking for solutions to put an end to sexual harassment and assault. Luckily, BARCC has tangible ways for you to change the culture.

Our Community Awareness and Prevention Services (CAPS) team gives a wide variety of trainings, but one of their most popular workshops is the active bystander training. BARCC Youth Clinical Outreach Coordinator Ashley Slay has led countless sessions of the active bystander training and said it gives trainees concrete skills and tools to intervene in situations of harassment or misconduct.

“It’s an opportunity for people to think about how to make their communities safer,” Ashley said.

“It’s an opportunity for people to think about how to make their communities safer.”

Ashley and the CAPS team revamped their active bystander training over the summer to focus more on anti-oppression: getting into the dynamics of how a marginalized person may feel less safe intervening as a targeted population, and how a person with privilege can use it to make others safer.

All tools taught in the active bystander training follow BARCC’s empowerment model, which seeks to give agency and power back to the person being targeted, rather than dictating their choices for them.

“I think the training makes people feel more empowered,” said Ashley. “For me the bystander training is most effective when we talk about ending sexual violence with our strong connections.” In other words, the greatest impact can be made within your own circles of friends, family, and colleagues, rather than with strangers.

The bystander training teaches the “Four Ds,” an easy-to-remember set of strategies that you can use to take action!

  • Distract: you can engage the person being targeted to distract and deescalate the situation. This also gives the targeted person space to say, “I don’t know you” or choose to engage with the bystander. You can also engage the aggressor, but most bystander intervention curriculums recommend focusing on the targeted person to avoid escalating the situation.
  • Delay: if you don’t feel safe intervening in the moment, it can still be effective to say to the offender after the fact that what they were doing wasn’t okay, or to check in with the person who was targeted to validate their feelings.
  • Delegate: you can also seek someone with more power or privilege to intervene, keeping in mind that not everyone wants to get the authorities involved.
  • Direct: you can intervene in the moment and tell the offender that what they’re doing is not okay. This is most helpful in personal relationships, Ashley said.

“This training is about keeping you safe and keeping the people involved safe. It’s about stopping violence before it happens and looking at ways to change the culture,” said Ashley.

Learn more about our trainings — and consider bringing a training to a community group in your life.