In 1996, Jane Tompkins called for a more comprehensive view of education saying, “We are educators of whole human beings.” Given the rise of campus sexual assault and national legislation about sexual violence prevention and intervention on college campuses, her statement has never been truer. TCU faculty members interact with students on a daily (even hourly!) basis, and as a result are in a position to recognize, discourage, and prevent a culture that enables sexual violence.

As a TCU faculty member, social worker, and activist in the sexual violence prevention movement, I think it is critical for faculty to understand the role they can play in helping prevent sexual violence on campus. TCU is moving forward with initiatives to raise awareness about sexual violence on campus as well as to educate the campus community about what role each person can play in changing the current cultural norms that enable sexual violence to continue. One of those initiatives is the Bystander Activation Committee, which is comprised of Student Affairs staff, faculty, and students. The purpose of this committee is to develop, implement, and evaluate a campus-wide bystander prevention initiative at TCU, which will include faculty, staff, and student workshops. The way that bystander interventions work most effectively is to have all members of the community sharing the same message and taking responsibility to prevent and intervene to stop risky behaviors. It is imperative that faculty work alongside students and staff to help change our current culture that enables sexual violence.

Bystanders are individuals who observe violence or witness the conditions that perpetuate violence. They are not directly involved but have the choice to intervene, speak up, or do something about it. They are someone who is present and thus potentially in a position to discourage, prevent, or interrupt an incident.

Bystander intervention programs are evidence-based and teach potential witnesses safe and positive ways they can act to intervene and/or prevent risky behaviors. Bystander intervention is the act of feeling empowered and equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively assist in the prevention of risky behaviors. Bystander education programs teach potential witnesses safe and positive ways they can act to intervene and/or prevent risky behaviors.

Bystander Intervention and Sexual Violence Prevention

The bystander approach focuses on men and women as bystanders to change social norms in a peer culture that supports abusive behaviors. This approach gives community members specific roles they can use in preventing sexual violence and other risky behaviors, including stopping situations that could lead to sexual violence before it happens, stepping in during an incident, and speaking out against ideas and behaviors that support sexual violence. It also gives individuals the skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors after an assault has taken place.

Bystander intervention can be something as small as a individual telling his/her friend that his/her sexist language is offensive or as great as a faculty member believing, listening, and supporting a college student who discloses he/she has been sexually assaulted. Regardless of the level of intervention, there are safe ways to help prevent sexual violence on campus.

Bystander intervention programs help people recognize healthy and unhealthy behaviors that could potentially lead to sexual violence and how they could effectively intervene before the negative behavior escalates. Bystander intervention can play a significant role in a comprehensive approach to sexual violence prevention. It differs from previous approaches in three key ways:

  1. Bystander intervention discourages victim blaming and makes sexual violence a community problem rather than an individual problem.
  2. Bystander intervention can play a significant role in a comprehensive approach to sexual violence prevention. When bystanders are approached as allies in ending sexual violence, rather than as potential perpetrators or victims, they are less likely to become defensive.
  3. Bystander intervention plays a role in helping to change social and community norms.

Bystanders are more likely to engage in pro-social behavior when they are aware that there is a problem and they see themselves as a responsible party in solving the problem. This theory is demonstrated by the situational model, developed by Latane and Darley (1970), which is the most commonly used bystander intervention model. The model outlines the following five steps:Bystander image for article

  1. Recognize signs that an act of sexual violence may occur or is occurring.
  2. Identify that the potential victim is at risk and that intervention is appropriate.
  3. Decide whether or not to take responsibility to intervene.
  4. Decide the most appropriate and safest way to intervene.
  5. Implement the decision to intervene safely to diffuse the situation.


Bystander intervention works at multiple levels of the Social-Ecological Model depicted on the previous page. The Social-Ecological Model addresses the multifaceted interaction between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors that influence all perpetrators, victims and bystanders of sexual violence.

Bystander intervention campaigns focus on shifting the social norm to create active bystanders. Steps that organizations can take to change social norms include encouraging help-seeking behaviors among bystanders, adopting policies to encourage bystander engagement, and providing positive feedback to bystanders who effectively intervene to prevent sexual violence. Albert Einstein best articulates the idea behind bystander interventions saying, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Works Cited

Latane, B. & Darley, J. M. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help? New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Nada Elias-Lambert

This article was written by Nada Elias-Lambert, Department of Social Work for the Fall 2016 Issue of Insights.