The Bystander Approach



Date of Publication
November, 2012

The bystander approach is a promising approach to sexual violence prevention as it encourages the community to take ownership of sexual violence as a problem and speak up when they witness potentially dangerous situations or sexist language. Other benefits of this approach include reducing victim blaming, includes everyone (gets men involved in a community issue, not a women's issue), and gives the community an opportunity it foster social change. Even so, it can be intimidating to become an active bystander - there are social pressures and personal safety that come into play. Below you will find a sample of the programs, resources, and research on the bystander approach.


Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP)
This curriculum focuses on student athletes and student leaders as "popular opinion leaders" to influence their peers. There are separate curricula available for high school females, high school males, and college males. The playbooks contain scripts and scenarios for folks to practice bystander skills; can be used without formal training.
The Red Flag Campaign
This is a public awareness campaign for college campuses that urges bystanders to "say something" when they see a red flag of dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault. There is a planning guide for interactive pieces but a large component of this program is a poster series. The campaign does not require training but the posters must be purchased.
Bringing in the Bystander®
This campaign is part of a marketing and social research project from the University of New Hampshire. The site provides tips and resources that are directed at the students at UNH but can be useful for similar audiences. Additionally, there is a very well designed and developed poster campaign that can be purchased called Know Your Power.

For more bystander programs, check out this Resource Page from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Resources and Tools

PISC: Bystanders, Agents of Change
This issue of PISC delves into the bystander approach and examines some practical aspects that make this a great strategy for prevention work with youth and adults. The bystander programs we discuss impact individuals, relationships, communities, and society.
Who Are You?
This media project from New Zealand focuses on how bystander intervention can help prevent sexual violence. There is a 8-minute video that follows a young woman out at bar with her friends and a potential alcohol-facilitated sexual assault. In the video we meet characters — the best friend, the flat mate, the employee, and the stranger — who could intervene at different points in the story and change the outcome. This media project emphasizes small actions that any bystander can take to help protect others and make sure they make it home safely.
Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention
This book presents an orientation to the importance of engaging bystanders in sexual violence prevention. The narrative provides background on the development of an approach that empowers each of us to be involved in prevention. It discusses various reasons why individuals who witness a range of inappropriate behaviors may or may not take action, and presents ways to encourage and develop greater bystander involvement. Finally, this book serves as an excellent training resource; it provides activities and trainer instructions throughout that make it a useful educational guide on bystander engagement in sexual violence prevention. Can be downloaded for free in both English and Spanish.
Virginia Tech's Bystander Intervention Playbook
This may be a useful tool to provide strategies for being an active bystander. Although created by a college community, this is a tool that could be easily used with younger audiences and is youth friendly in its design. The Playbook comes as a PDF file but the link above is for the site, which contains the Playbook as well as other useful talking points.
Mediation @ MIT
This online resource accompanies programs that are held on the campus. Although the campus programs are not available to others, the online portion contains very helpful bystander scripts and tools to share.
Engaging Bystanders to Prevent Sexual Violence Information Packet
This information packet provides a series of documents on bystander intervention, including current research, resources, and examples of bystander programs. It includes resources for sexual assault advocates and preventionists, as well as community members.

Preventionist Training & Professional Development

  • Prevent Connect, a national project of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, hosts a Wiki to house a large selection of research, resources, and online tools. View the Bystander Intervention Wiki.