Call for help (Llámenos para ayuda): 1.800.273.8712

TTY Relay Call: 1.800.848.0298

Voice Relay Call: 1-800-848-0299

Bystander Intervention


Anyone who plays some role in an act of harrassment, abuse or violence—but is neither the perpetrator or the victim.  It is someone who is present and thus potentially in a position to discourage, prevent, or interrupt an incident.  


Latané & Darley developed a model that bystanders follow to decide if they will provide help or not. According to this model, a bystander goes through a five step decision tree before help is provided. Helping responses can, however, be inhibited at any stage of the process and no help is provided:

  • The bystander needs to notice that an event is taking place, but may fail to do so and not provide help.
  • The bystander needs to identify the event as some form of emergency. The situation may be ambiguous, preventing from help being given.
  • The bystander needs to take responsibility for helping, but might avoid taking responsibility by assuming that some body else will (diffusion of responsibility).
  • The bystander needs to decide on the appropriate helping response, but may not believe themselves to be competent to do so.
  • The bystander needs to implement that response, but this may be against their interest to do so, specially in dangerous situations.

In the diffusion of responsibility in stage three, each bystander notices the event and recognises that help is required, but fails to act because they assume that somebody else will take responsibility. This can be viewed as a means of reducing the psychological cost of not helping. The cost (e.g. embarrassment and guilt) are shared among the group, reducing the likelihood of intervention.


  • Direct: Step in and address the situation directly. This might look like saying, "That's not cool. Please stop." or "Hey, leave them alone." This technique tends to work better when the person that you're trying to stop is someone that knows and trusts you. It does not work well when drugs or alchohol are being used because someone's ability to have a conversation with you about what is going on may be impaired, and they are more likely to become defensive.

  • Distract: Distract either person in the situation to intervene. This might look like saying, "Hey, aren't you in my Spanish class?" or "Who wants to go get pizza at Bacios?" This technique is especially useful when drugs or alcohol are being used because people under the influence are more easily distracted then those that are sober.

  • Delegate: Find others who can help you to intervene in the situation. This might look like asking a friend to distract one person in the situation while you distract the other ("splitting" or "defensive split"), asking someone to go sit with them and talk, or going and starting a dance party right in the middle of their conversation. If you didn't know either person in the situation, you could also ask around to see if someone else does and check in with them. See if they can go talk to their friend, text their friend to check in, or intervene.

  • Delay: For many reasons, you may not be able to do something right in the moment. For example, if you're feeling unsafe or if you're unsure whether or not someone in the situation is feeling unsafe, you may just want to check in with the person. In this case, you can combine a distraction technique by asking the person to use the bathroom with you or go get a drink with you to separate them from the person that they are talking with. Then, this might look like asking them, "Are you okay?" or "How can I help you get out of this situation?" This could also look like texting the person, either in the situation or after you see them leave and asking, "Are you okay?" or "Do you need help?"