Bystander Invention: Engaging Men - Louisiana Foundation Against
Against Sexual Assault
We witness situations every day in which someone
makes an inappropriate sexual comment or
perpetrates sexual harassment. Sometimes, we say
something or do something, but at other times, we
choose simply to ignore the situation.
We usually think of intervening as stopping individual
acts of sexual abuse or rape, the few moments before
it happens. Rarely, is this individual “event” the only
chance to intervene.
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Rather, there are countless derogatory comments,
harassments, and various other forms of abuse that
lead up to what we think of as the sexually violent act.
Each of these presents an opportunity to intervene by
reinforcing positive attitudes and behaviors BEFORE a
behavior potentially becomes abusive or violent.
If we only limit our interventions to a culminating
“event,” we miss multiple opportunities to do
something or say something before someone is
harmed. As men, it’s important to recognize that
we can play a key role in shaping the social norms
around sexual violence and stepping up and
speaking out as bystanders is one way to do so.
This project was supported by Grant No.
2014-SW-AX-0008 awarded by the Office on
Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of
Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and
recommendations expressed in this publication
are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily
reflect the views of the Department of Justice,
Office on Violence Against Women.
Because getting involved helps prevent
sexual assault in a culture that too often
inadvertently supports it. Because a little
thing you do to check in with someone
else could be the big that prevents a lot
of trauma. And because sexual assault is
Sexual violence occurs on a spectrum,
intimidating cat calls to groping or
unwanted touching to rape.
Think of your sister, your mom, your
girlfriend, or one of your good friends
in a sexually violent situation. What
if someone watched or knew it was
happening and did nothing to stop it?
How would you feel? Do you want to be
that kind of person?
When we don’t speak up,
we support a culture that
lets perpetrators get away
with sexual violence.
Getting involved doesn’t have to
be, and ideally shouldn’t be, a big
What you can do:
Register your lack of approval for such
attitudes or behaviors by leaving the
individual or group who are perpetrating
Offer your presence. If you see that a woman
is being targeted, simply stand near her so
that she and the perpetrator know she’s not
Take action if there is a threat of immediate
danger by getting an authority figure, from a
bartender or bouncer, to even calling security
or the police.
Speak up if someone’s making derogatory
jokes about anyone, especially women.
To defuse a potential situation, distract the
couple or take one person aside. Ask the
potential perpetrator for the time, or anything
that would momentarily break his focus from
Talk to the girl at some point and ask, “Is
he bothering you?”, “Are you okay?” – if the
woman says she would like your help, do
what you can to assist. If she does not need
your help, respect this and move on.
Knock on or open the door and ask if
everything is alright. Interrupting a seemingly
harmless situation is better than standing
around while a sexual assault takes place.
It takes some guts to be the kind of
person who will intervene. But at least
you’ve started the conversation. All it
takes is one person.
When intervening in a situation, it’s
important to reference the behavior you
are concerned about, but do not judge
the potential perpetrator as a human
being. The purpose of your intervention
is to acknowledge that their actions/
behaviors/statements are not acceptable
and should not be repeated.
It’s not a bad thing to want to make sure people are
safe. However, men often make the mistake of assuming
that women need the help of men. Sometimes
women would appreciate some help, other times it’s
Notice the event along a continuum of actions. (Is the event
healthy, mutuallyrespectful & safe, or is it potentially violent
or sexually abusive?)
Always consider whether the situation demands your
action. (Is your actions desired and necessary?)
Decide if you have a responsibility to act. (Would inaction
lead to a dangerous or unhealthy situation?)
Choose what form of assistance to use. (Gauge your
surroundings and recognize what type of intervention is
Understand how to implement a choice safely. (It is
important that the bystander is out of harm’s way as