Bystander Intervention is the interruption of behavior or speech by someone who is present for or a bystander to that behavior or speech. More simply, it is spontaneously helping in a situation when help is needed.
Action Zone Bystander Intervention training teaches members of the NYU community strategies to effectively intervene in concerning or emergency situations in which no one else has yet taken action to help. In a higher education setting, Bystander Intervention techniques are most often applied to circumstances of alcohol misuse, sexual assault, bias incidents, and mental health challenges.
Bystander intervention is not just about helping in challenging moments, but also about changing social norms and promoting community. Active bystanders pay attention, speak up, take initiative, and defy conformity.
Bystander Intervention Skills
- Look for signs of alcohol poisoning using CUSP: Cold, clammy skin; Unconscious; Slow, irregular breathing; Puking, particularly while passed out
- If someone is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, call 911, then contact a nearby NYU authority figure (e.g. Resident Assistant) and Public Safety (212-998-2222).
If someone you know has been sexually assaulted:
- Do: Listen actively, support, believe unconditionally, withhold judgment, ask thoughtful questions, take care of yourself too
- Don’t: blame, try to be a detective, provide simple solutions, ignore your own need to discuss your feelings
- Do: Call the Wellness Exchange (212-443-9999) and ask for a Crisis Response Counselor to discuss medical, counseling, and judicial options – for the survivor or for yourself
Students in Distress
If someone you know is showing signs of distress or crisis – for example: references to death, withdrawal from friends, loss of interest in school or other activities, abrupt changes in mood, etc.:
- Address the issue early before it becomes more serious. Call the Wellness Exchange hotline (212-443-9999) for guidance
- Use the QPR method in conversations with the person in crisis:
- Question: Ask questions to see how the person is doing; point out specific concerns you have
- Persuade: Encourage the person to seek and accept help
- Refer: Refer the person to specific, appropriate resources (offer to call on their behalf)
- If you think someone may be feeling suicidal, ask if they are thinking about hurting themselves. If the situation is urgent, call the Wellness Exchange (212-443-9999) or NYU Public Safety (212-998-2222). Don’t leave the person alone.
In order to be effective allies to others, we can and should speak up if we hear oppressive comments. Avoiding the comment or confronting the speaker aggressively may make the situation worse. The “Shifting the Person” method can be a useful approach:
- Tone: Maintain an even and calm tone
- Park/Reach: “park” your initial reaction and “reach” for more information from the other person. Ask open-ended questions like “What makes you feel that way?”
- Decrease Defensiveness: Avoid using the word “why” as it implies judgment. If you start to notice the person getting defensive, go back to open ended questions and repeating back what you are hearing.
Random Acts of Kindness
Being an ally to someone in need doesn’t have to be a huge production. Simple actions can change someone’s day for the better: if the person behind you on line to buy coffee seems to be in a really big hurry, let them go ahead; pay a shy classmate a compliment; give up your seat on the subway to someone who’s carrying something heavy. Opportunities abound to practice your Bystander Intervention skills in safe and positive ways, and this practice can help build your confidence to intervene in tougher situations.
Bystander Intervention Ideas
- If someone appears upset, ask if they are okay. Be prepared for quick dismissals (“Yeah, I’m fine”). Ask how you can help.
- When leaving a party, account for the people who came with you.
- If you see people fighting in a way that looks dangerous, call the police or Public Safety.
- If a friend seems suicidal, ask if they are thinking about hurting themselves and suggest calling the Wellness Exchange together. If your friend refuses, call the hotline on your own and let the counselor know you are worried about your friend.
- If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, contact the nearest authority figure and emergency services, make sure the person is lying on their side, and stay until help arrives.
- When the topic of sex comes up, say that seeking and receiving consent is always necessary and can even be sexy. Visit www.nyu.edu/sexual-respect for more resources.
- If someone is intoxicated and left behind by their friends, help them contact their friends to get home safely. If you have no information about them, call Public Safety to assist.
- Offer to watch your friends’ drinks when they leave the table. And then do it.
- If you hear someone using biased language, don’t ignore it. Try saying: “You used the term 'x' and many people find that derogatory. Is there another way to say what you mean?”
- If a friend is in an abusive relationship (physically, sexually, or emotionally), tell them they can confide in you, and offer to connect them to resources. If they refuse your help, but you believe they are in danger, call the Wellness Exchange hotline and tell the counselor you are worried about your friend.
- If two people are intoxicated and you think one is pressuring the other into leaving together, create a distraction like spilling a drink, joining their conversation, or saying to one of them: “Your friends are looking for you.”
- If you suspect a friend has been sexually assaulted, let them know you are there if they want to talk or take them to get help.
Bystander Intervention Resources
In some situations, it can be most effective to intervene using an indirect approach. These include: when the bystander is witnessing a physical conflict between two people or wants to help someone in distress, in an emergency that requires medical or other professional skills, or when the situation at hand just doesn't feel safe. Following are some resources you can use when direct intervention is not possible or helpful, or when arming yourself and/or others with information is the best option.
STI Testing at the Student Health Center
- May be scheduled through:
- Primary Care: 212-443-1122
- Women’s Health: 212-443-1166
- In case of emergency, call 911
NYPD Sex Crimes Report Line
Bellevue Hospital Rape Crisis Program
- 462 1st Ave, CD Building, Room CD408
Beth Israel Medical Center Rape Crisis & Domestic Violence Intervention
- 317 East 17th Street, 4th Floor
It’s often best to consult or enlist resources like these rather than diving headfirst into a dicey or confusing situation. When in doubt, get help giving help.