Content Warning: Sexual harassment and sexual assault
It’s exciting to be back on campus after years of hybrid and remote learning. In-person events and gatherings mean more opportunities to spend time with friends and meet new people. As we engage in more social situations, however, there may be circumstances we see or experience that are uncomfortable and potentially harmful. These situations could include sexual harassment – any unwanted attention about sex, gender, sexuality, dating, body, or appearance. At UW-Madison, nearly half of all students have experienced sexually harassing behavior. As Badgers, we must keep ourselves and others accountable for their actions, especially when this behavior can cause harm to others. We are all accountable for creating spaces free from sexual violence for everyone.
A bystander is someone who observes behavior that could lead to harm. Bystanders are not directly involved in a harmful situation but can intervene, speak up, or do something to challenge or interrupt the behavior. When there are lots of people around, we assume someone else will take it upon themselves to intervene; this is known as the diffusion of responsibility, or better known as the bystander effect. Situations that are harmful or potentially harmful can feel awkward, especially when it includes someone you know. It is difficult to find the right time, words, or actions to help intervene, but everyone can step up.
You have options when intervening – remember the three D’s.
Direct: Speak up to the people involved directly and check in with the people being harmed or who seem to be in an uncomfortable situation.
Distract: Create a diversion to diffuse the situation. This can help give the person an “out.”
Delegate: If it feels unsafe for you to intervene personally, or you don’t know the people involved very well, find someone else who can help diffuse the situation – like a staff member or friend.
Intervening may seem intimidating, especially when there are power dynamics at play. Make sure you are not putting yourself in danger by intervening. If you have concerns about how your identity or the identities of those involved in the situation may harm others, utilize the ‘distract’ or ‘delegate’ options. What is most important is to hold people accountable for their actions and create a safe environment for everyone.
Bystander intervention in context
Situation: A person from your residence hall is touching another person you don’t know, who appears to be heavily intoxicated, inappropriately at a house party.
Direct: “Hey, what are you doing? They seem pretty out of it.”
Depending on your relationship with the person from your residence hall, you might feel comfortable speaking to them directly about their behavior. If this does not feel comfortable, you may choose to ask, “Are you okay?” to the person who appears intoxicated.
Distract: “Your friends are looking for you – let’s go catch up with them in the kitchen!”
Delegate: “I think your friend isn’t treating that person right – I’m worried. Could you pull them away from that situation?”
You can ask someone else to help, especially if the situation feels unsafe or you may not know the person in the situation that well, for you to get directly involved with. Make sure you follow up with the person who might have been harmed to make sure they are safe.
The three Ds are easy to remember: Direct, Distract, and Delegate. We all can provide help, whether we personally do it, or if we get another person to help us do it.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, please consider connecting with UHS Survivor Services or with Violence Prevention to get help. Survivor Services provide free, confidential support services to UW-Madison students survivors of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and/or stalking.
If you would like to connect with Violence Prevention specifically, you can contact them at their confidential violence prevention email: email@example.com. They provide workshops about bystander intervention and other prevention topics to any interested campus group.