5 Tips for Bystander Intervention

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How can you play a role in preventing sexual harassment? During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a women’s health psychologist offers important — and possibly life-saving — tips below.

It could happen during your commute. Or at a party. Or maybe on a walk. You see someone in a situation that just doesn’t feel right. What do you do? Do you do anything? What steps do you take to make sure your friend, neighbor, or fellow citizen is OK and out of harm’s way?

There are many ways that you can step in or make a difference if someone is potentially at risk for sexual assault or violence. This is referred to as “bystander intervention.”

Priya Batra, PsyD

Priya Batra PsyD, a women’s health psychologist at Kaiser Permanente’s Sacramento Medical Center, works with many victims of domestic or sexual violence. Look insideKP sat down with Dr. Batra, who spoke about how to intervene as well as the responsibility we all have in preventing sexual assault and violence.

Distract from the Situation

“Secrecy often gives a greenlight to bad behavior. If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, it most likely is uncomfortable for that person, too,” explained Dr. Batra. “Do what you can to interrupt the situation. A distraction can give the person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.”

Dr. Batra suggests making a noise or cutting off the conversation or interaction between the harasser and person at risk with an unrelated question.

“Try to shatter the moment,” said Batra. “But also trust your gut. If you feel unsafe approaching the situation, ask for help.”

Approach the Person Who Might be in Trouble

If you see someone who might be in trouble, Dr. Batra recommends asking them directly if they are OK, or if they need help.

“This sort of direct inquiry helps them get unparalyzed in a situation where they might have been feeling stuck,” said Dr. Batra. “Also, you can offer to stay with them until the harmful situation passes.”

Ask for Help

If you create a distraction and approach the person at risk directly, but the unwelcome behavior persists, it’s time to call for help.

“Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to refer to a neutral party with the authority to change the situation, like a store manager, bartender, security guard, or resident advisor (RA) — whomever is nearby in the moment,” explained Dr. Batra.

She recommends saying to that authority figure, “What is going on here is making me uncomfortable.”

“But if someone is giving clear indications of distress, saying things like, ‘Get away,’ or ‘Get off me,’ then do not hesitate to call 911,” she said. 

Power in Numbers

It can be intimidating to approach a potentially dangerous situation alone. Dr. Batra suggests enlisting another person to support you.

“When it comes to expressing concern, there is often power in numbers. You could ask someone to help you escort the person at risk to another location or help create a distraction with you,” explained Dr. Batra.

“We need to work on shifting our culture from noninvolvement to looking out for our fellow humans,” she said.

Everyone Plays a Role

“Since 9/11, we’ve all been living in a ‘see something, say something’ time period. But that pertains to more than just security and travel,” said Dr. Batra. “In the time of the #MeToo movement, the same philosophy prevails.”

She said that if we see someone breaking into a car, we all know instinctively to call the police or ask for help. “But if we see someone being harassed, we should also have a cultural responsibility to act in some way,” she continued.

“It’s important to remember that we can all be a point of change in our culture.”

To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org. For additional resources on domestic and sexual violence, visit the Kaiser Permanente Family Violence Prevention program.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much. Keep up the good work. All issues that are being brought to employees’ attention are very good. We work so hard at times, it’s hard to keep up on what’s important with our family members. My daughter’s safety is so important to me. There are individuals out there that are preying on our daughters’ lives, putting them in danger, and even some are not making it home safe.

    Thanks, Thanks, Thanks

    Iris Ellington

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