Bystander Intervention

Bystander intervention is an approach that can be used to improve situations where it looks like someone could use some help. The approach is about being an active, positive contributor, instead of ignoring the situation or expecting someone else to step in and fix it. Bystanders are witnesses who have seen something bad happen. Passive bystanders are people who choose, for whatever reason, to ignore the situation, or to do nothing about it. Active bystanders are people who do something to try and improve the situation.

When bystanders see or hear something that makes them think ‘somebody should do something about this’, passive bystanders think ‘somebody else should do something about this’ and active bystanders think ‘I should do something about this’.

Two of the most important, yet challenging aspects to being an Active Bystander are:

1.Identifying your responsibility to help and

2.Knowing what to do and how to do it safely.

There are five steps to being an active bystander:

1. Notice the event

2. Interpret it as a problem

3. Feel responsible for helping

4. Have necessary knowledge and skills

5. Act.

There are three levels of bystander intervention: primary, secondary and tertiary.

Primary prevention aims to stop violence before it starts. It aims to address the underlying social determinants of violence and to create equal and respectful relationships. At the individual level, this can mean challenging peers’ and/or colleagues’ sexist remarks or jokes that normalise or condone violence against women. At the organisational and/or community level, it can be challenging workplace or other organisational cultures and practices that marginalise women. And at the societal level, challenging social norms that sustain gender inequality and condone violence against women.

Secondary prevention aims to intervene in existing violence, provide a supportive response or to prevent recurrence. Individual bystander action might involve confronting a perpetrator of violence about their recent behaviour and encouraging them to seek assistance to change. Alternately, it might involve intervening in a high-risk situation in order to prevent the risk of violence occurring. At the organisational and/or community level it might involve having flexible work policies and additional leave provisions for staff experiencing violence, or making referral information available to staff/members who may be experiencing violence.

Tertiary prevention can include reporting an incident to police or an appropriate authority, or taking other action to intervene where it is safe to do so. At the organisational or community level, it can be encouraging staff/members to report incidents of violence and/or harassment and having clear policies in place for responding to specific incidents. This bystander action aligns with ‘tertiary’ prevention because it aims to mitigate the long-term effects of existing violence.

The above references to primary, secondary and tertiary prevention are taken from VicHealth’s Review of bystander approaches in support of preventing violence against women. Review of Bystander Approaches – VicHealth

Why Rise Above the Pack?

Research consistently identifies the causal relationship between gender inequitable attitudes (including a belief in rigid and stereotypical gender roles), and violence supportive attitudes that lead to violence against women, both on an individual and community level. An active bystander can play a key role in challenging the social norms and attitudes that perpetuate gender inequality and violence supportive attitudes in the community, as well as take action to respond to or prevent an incident of violence against women.

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