Bystanders can play an important role when it comes to preventing, and supporting someone who has experienced sexual violence.

What is a bystander?

Bystanders are individuals who witness situations requiring action, or emergencies, and by their presence, have the opportunity to provide assistance, do nothing, or contribute to the negative behavior.

Active bystanders are those who assume responsibility for intervening in a situation. This can impact the outcome positively and deescalate violence. Research shoes that active bystanders are also more likely to calm and deescalate a situation than make it worse. At Carleton, we all can play a role intervening and stopping sexual violence. This can be while online, on campus, or out with friends.

Bringing in the Bystander®

The Carleton University Sexual Assault Support Centre provides FREE bystander intervention training during courses and to Carleton based organizations, such as clubs and societies social groups, sports team’s student governments and volunteers.

The Bringing in the Bystander® program is a 90 minute training module that encourages student-participants to see themselves as potential bystanders who could intervene and stop sexual violence before it happens. Students learn the importance of speaking out against social norms that support sexual violence – also known as rape culture, how to recognize and safely interrupt situations that could lead to sexual assault, and how to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors. Please contact Equity Services for more information, and to set up a training.

Be an Active Bystander

  • Recognize the situation as one that is violent and requiring action. It is important to recognize that there are a wide range of violent behaviours, from sexually violent posts on social media to sexual assault, and all have opportunities where bystanders can intervene
  • Overcome bystander apathy, don’t assume others will intervene, or that it isn’t your place to take action. Bystander apathy is when people who are witnessing a situation requiring action or violence, do not intervene because they diffuse responsibility to others witnessing the situation
  • If you have an opportunity to challenge jokes or comments about sexual violence don’t be afraid to be the first to step in, others will follow your lead.
  • Assume responsibility and take action
  • NOTE: Before stepping in, make sure to evaluate the risk. If it means putting yourself in danger, call for help (i.e. a friend, campus safety).
  • Offer assistance. Ask if the person needs help if they haven’t already asked for assistance. Or if they are ok.
  • De-escalate the situation, ask non-accusatory questions, or a simple “how are you doing”. Don’t use violence or threats.
  • Don’t leave. If you remain there, the perpetrator is less likely to do anything.
  • If you know the perpetrator of the violence, make it known you do not approve of their actions.

Research shows that role modeling active bystander behaviour encourages others to do the same in similar situations.

If someone reveals they have been assaulted, or harassed.

  • If they are in immediate danger, or need medical attention call 911.
  • Ensure they are in a safe, comfortable space away from the perpetrator. This is still important even if they have been assaulted weeks, even months before they disclose to you.
  • Allow them to talk about what they are comfortable sharing, and do not pressure them for more details. Silence is ok, give them time to process their thoughts.
  • Affirm to them that this is not their fault, and that their actions did not cause this.
  • Actively support their decision to report or not report. It is their right to choose.
  • Provide information, not advice, avoid statements that say “you should…”, and instead ask questions like “Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers, there are many great resources in the Ottawa area that can help.
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself. It can be overwhelming helping someone through a traumatic event.

Learn More!

  • Understand what consent is, and what it looks like when it is given and taken away.
  • Get involved! Learn more about what sexual violence, and consent looks like. There are many great organizations in the Ottawa area who need volunteers.
  • The Carleton University Sexual Assault Support Centre provides bystander intervention training for the Carleton community. If you are looking to receive training for your group, contact Equity Services.