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Bystander Intervention

At Sonoma State University, we're active bystanders who look out for one another and step up to intervene so we can prevent harm. We understand that violence against one person impacts all of us and that we all have a responsibility to create a culture, free of violence.

Being an Active Bystander is simple:

  1. Be observant - Make a conscious decision to be aware of our surroundings and think critically about what you’re seeing or hearing (or even doing) so you can recognize with something is off.
  2. Recognize problematic situations -  Recognize if what you’re seeing, hearing, reading, maybe even doing is an event that needs intervention.
  3. Assume responsibility - If not you, then who? Take the initiative to intervene and do something. 
  4. Determine which tool feels most comfortable to use - direct, delegate, distract
  5. Take action!

Different circumstances will influence which intervention feels right for you in that situation; as long as you're choosing to safely, intervene there is no "right" or "wrong" decision.

Check out examples of the 3 Ds of bystander intervention below!

The 3 Ds of Intervention

Direct intervention looks like approaching the individuals involved in the situation-- the person who is being harmed or the person causing the harm-- to prevent a problematic situation.

  • "They're too drunk to consent to tonight."
  • "Rape jokes are not funny."
  • "They don't look like they know what's going on, can you stop dancing on them like that?"
  • "I've noticed you stumbling around, can I call a friend to come pick you up?"


Being direct can also look like checking in with a person later on:

  • "I haven't seen you at practice the past few days, how have you been?"
  • "I overheard some yelling from inside your room last night, do you want to talk about what's going on?"
  • "I noticed you look uncomfortable whenever your partner shows up during your shift, do you want them here?"


Delegating is all about enlisting the help of others when you don't feel comfortable intervening alone.

For example:

  • Finding a person's friends and telling them what you're seeing.
  • Talking to your RA, a coach, professor, or staff member.
  • Calling University Police.
  • Giving your friend a certain task to act on.

Creating a distraction can interrupt the moment and prevent a problematic situation from occurring or escalating.

  • Ask one of them, "Where's the bathroom? I'm not feeling well."
  • Accidentally spill your drink on/by them.
  • Strike up a random conversation: "Hey are we in econ together? How did you do on that latest quiz? I think I bombed it."
  • Ask to borrow their phone, say yours died and you need to call a ride.
  • "Did you drive here? I saw a car getting towed outside"

Recognizing Problematic Events

Below are some warning signs or "red flags" that a problematic event can occur or is occurring.

​These red flags are behaviors to be conscious of so you can recognize problematic behaviors and intervene as an active bystander. 

The red flags do not indicate that someone is responsible for harm caused to them.

Signs that someone might engage/is engaging in sexual activity without their partner's consent.

  • Ignoring cues
    • Not paying attention to or disregarding someone's "no" that's being communicated verbally or through body language. 
  • Guilt, pressure, or coercion
    • Trying to convince a person to engage in sexual activity (they should be saying "yes" on their own). 
    • Ignoring boundaries that are set or redefined (such as withdrawing consent).
  • Taking advantage of a situation
    • Targeting a person who is drinking heavily.
    • Intentionally giving a person more alcohol.
    • Separating a person from their friends.
  • Incapacitation
    • Engaging in sexual activity when a person is impacted by excessive alcohol consumption (aka seeing: slurred speech, stumbling, vomiting, being passed out/unconscious).
      • A person could say the word “yes,” but if it’s under these circumstances listed, it’s not valid.

Relationship violence can be verbal, physical, mental, emotional, financial.

  • Jealousy
    • A partner may try to justify their jealousy, “I just care about you/our relationship so much.”
  • Control and manipulation
    • A partner controlling what you do, who you see, where you go, what you buy, etc.
    • Manipulating you or the circumstance to be in their favor.
  • Isolation
    • Physically but most often emotionally.
    • Separating someone from their support systems and creating more of a dependency on their partner.
  • Unrealistic expectations
    • Feeling you can never “get it right.”
    • A partner is impossible to please, especially long-term.
    • Always feel like you’re “walking on eggshells.”
  • Never at fault
    • It's never the partner's own fault, someone else is always to blame.
    • “If they didn’t do x, I wouldn’t have done y.”
    • A partner doesn't take responsibility for their actions or the impact they have.
    • A partner doesn't make lasting changes.
  • Fear/Threats
    • Directly threatening you/others you care about (including pets or property).
    • Yelling, name-calling, humiliating.
    • A general sense of fear or anxiety about the relationship.

These red flags are behaviors to be conscious of so you can recognize problematic behaviors and intervene as an active bystander. The red flags do not indicate that someone is responsible for harm caused to them.

Repeated, unwanted contact that causes substantial emotional distress.

  • Excessive contact
    • In-person or digitally.
    • Not taking “no” for an answer.
  • Showing up 
    • Unannounced.
    • Uninvited.
    • “Coincidentally” at the same places/times (especially when it happens repeatedly).
  • Monitoring
    • Knowing where someone is, has been, who they’ve seen when they should readily have that information.
  • Knowing information 
    • That wasn't provided or would be difficult to find.
  • Unwanted gifts
    • Randomly left for a person.
    • Odd or expensive gifts.