Bystander Intervention

Impact Score21.6
Students Impacted12%

What is Bystander Intervention?

Bystander intervention is a strategy for prevention of various types of violence or harm, including sexual assault and alcohol overdose. Teaching bystander intervention to college students has received increased attention from institutional administrators over the past decade and it is a strategy that is increasingly supported by the research. The bystander effect was first demonstrated in the laboratory by John Darley and Bibb Latane in 1968.

The Bystander Intervention Model includes five states that a bystander goes through before determining what course of action they will take:

  1. Notice the incident
  2. Interpret incident as an emergency requiring intervention
  3. Assume responsibility
  4. Decide how to help
  5. Confidence in ability to help

A bystander program should cover the variety of reasons that people to not intervene and help them to overcome common barriers including skills training:

  • Fear of retaliation
    Bystander fear lack of support, negative reactions from others, or physical harm. A bystander will be inhibited from acting if they under-estimates the support and respect of others for them to intervene. A social norms approach can be effectively combined with other prevention strategies, i.e. correcting misperceptions about bystander behavior (Berkowitz, 2014)
  • Evaluation apprehension
    When faced with a high risk situation, individuals are reluctant to respond because they are afraid they will look foolish or embarrass the person they are confronting (Latane & Darley, 1970)
  • Diffusion of responsibility
    When faced with a crisis situation, individuals are less likely to respond when more people are present because each assumes that someone else will handle it (Darley & Latane, 1968; Chekroun & Brauer, 2002)
  • Pluralistic ignorance
    Occurs when a bystander incorrectly believes that they are in the minority in wanted to say something, so instead they do nothing as they perceive this is what the majority of people believe is the correct thing to do (Clark & Ward, 1974; Latane & Darely, 1970)
  • Confidence in skills
    Individuals are more likely to intervene in a high-risk situation when they feel confident in their ability to do so effectively (Shotland & Heinold, 1985)
  • Social influence
    Individual’s thoughts, feelings or actions are affected by the behavior of other people. If no one else is intervening, the bystander may incorrectly assume that there is no problem

There are a variety of bystander intervention programs that trains students to be effective bystanders. The remainder of this document describes various programs that are included in the Bystander Intervention strategy in the EVERFI Compass.

Bringing in the Bystander

Background Information
Bringing in the Bystander teaches bystanders how to intervene safely and effectively in cases where sexual assault may be occurring or where there may be risk.

Format: The program consists of an in-person intervention and a social marketing campaign called “Know Your Power.” The in-person intervention is run in the classroom setting using either a 4.5 hour training offered over 2 or 3 days or a single 90-minute training session.

Audience: The target audience includes the general undergraduate population, athletes, members of Greek letter organizations, resident advisors, orientation leaders, student staff at university Student Center, and students in first-year residence halls. The ideal group size is 20-25 students of a single gender.

Trainers: The program is delivered by two co-facilitators (one male and one female). Facilitators come from a variety of source: undergraduate students, graduate students, and professional staff/faculty. A “train-the trainer” approach is taken for the co-facilitators who receive required readings and two 5-hour training session with the lead trainer. Co-facilitators also attend training updates and debriefing sessions periodically. The trainers are evaluated as they go through the training and receive a stipend for conducting the program.

Components of the training: Lecture, discussion, videos, interactive exercises, small group work, opportunities to practice skills and role play. Participants receive handouts that contain different scenarios where bystanders could intervene. They create personal plan of action and receive a business card with the ABCs of Intervention to take with them. The ABCs of Intervention card contains the phrase “Active Bystander Care” – Assess for safety, Be with others, Care for the victim. The card also displays emergency phone numbers.

Green Dot

Background Information
Green Dot raises community awareness about acts of violence against women (red dots) and promotes bystander intervention (green dots) through social norms.

Format: Trainings are a minimum of 6 hours long, but can be extended into a full weekend format. The training can be delivered as one 6-hour session or spread out overall several sessions. Booster sessions come in three different formats: weekly mini-surveys, a single follow-up session, or four sessions delivered once per week.

The Green Dot is accompanied by a social norms campaign. The Green Dot social norms campaign asks bystander to do three things:

  1. Make blame the victim language intolerable in your sphere of influence
  2. Be visibly aware and concerned
  3. Listen and refer

Audience: People who are likely to intersect as a bystander with the target issue and population from across community subgroups including student groups, faculty, bar owners, parents, and coaches. The ideal training group size is 25 people for every one trainer. A mixed gender training group is recommended.

Trainers: At least 2 professional staff with peers used in support roles are present at trainings. Trainers participate in a 4-day instructor training provided by certified Green Dot trainers.

Components of the training: Training includes lecture, skills practice, role playing, video, discussion, and learning to recognize high-risk situations via written and filmed scenarios. Students are trained to recognize and implement proactive bystander behaviors. The training takes into account research on bystanders, barriers to intervening, perpetrators, and patterns of perpetration.

Mentors in Violence Prevention

Background Information
Mentors in Violence Prevention was founded by Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sports in Society. It is a gender violence prevention and education program with the goal to reduce the level of men’s violence against women by raising awareness, opening dialogue, challenging thinking, and inspiring leadership.

Format: The program is conducted in a 90-minute session or 10-hour training over 3-5 months. The main teaching tool utilized is the MVP Playbook which includes interactive scenarios that challenge student thinking as well as awareness-raising exercises. There are male and female versions of the playbook. The discussion part of the program is conducted with single gender while the interactive scenarios are mixed gender.

Audience: The target audiences for the MVP program are male and female student leaders and athletes.

Trainers: The trainers are former professional and college student-athletes. They receive 14 hours of gender violence prevention training.

Components of the training: Participants are lead through interactive scenarios, discussion, awareness-raising exercises.


The interACT Troupe is informed by the work of Freire and Boal and uses techniques aligned with feminist pedagogies to raise awareness, promote empathic responses, challenge (hyper)masculinity and encourage bystander interventions. Boal is the author of The Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) and it is an extension of Frier’s work. At the core of TO is an oppressed protagonist, and the girlfriend assumes this role in the interact show.

Marc Rich, the program director, trains the student actors and actresses for many months. They rehearse improvisational techniques and practice playing the role of the complicated, well-trained antagonist.

During the first half of the play audience members watch two brief performances by trained actor-educators: one that involves the provocation of a male character by his friends and one that involved the disclosure of rape by a female character to her friends. The play is performed a second time with the invitation to the audience members to come on stage and intervene in their own way to show what they would do in such a situation.

InterACT shares similarities with role-plays, but the heightened theatrical and addition of trained antagonist distinguish it from other programs using role-plays.


  • A lot of training involved in proactive performance programs
  • Students who are willing to learn about violence against women and possess the talent to be evocative stage performers
  • Challenging to offer a sociopolitical performance without falling into the trappings of “sneaky teaching”
  • Audience members engaged in performance but no come to a deeper understanding of sexual assault

Men’s Project

The Men’s Project uses the social norms approach as a violence prevention strategy. The workshop, developed by Alan Berkowitz, was studied in a CDC funded evaluation. The program uses social norms strategies (corrections of misperceptions in the workshop group) along with bystander intervention skills. The study had a matched control group receiving no intervention (Gidycz, Orchowski & Berkowitz, 2011). At three month follow-up, actual sexual assaults were reduced by 75% in the experimental group as compared with the control group, and there were many other beneficial outcomes, including:

  • greater discomfort among the majority with sexually abusive behavior
  • less likelihood of associating with sexually aggressive men;
  • reduced use of pornography;
  • greater interest in intervening

The study provides evidence in support of the social norms approach as a violence prevention strategy. However, after six months, sexual assaults rebounded in the experimental group, erasing the gains measured at three months – although other beneficial outcomes remained. This suggests there are limitations to what can be accomplished with a single workshop and a more comprehensive approach with multiple on-going elements might be necessary to sustain the initial reduction in sexual assaults that was accomplished.


No Zebras

The No Zebras. No Excuses program runs between 1 – 1.5 hours. The program focuses on bystander mentality, addressing the impact of intervention on situations of sexual aggression. It stresses sexual aggression can no longer be ignored, empowering students to stand up, take a stand, and help keep others safe.

The program was started at Central Michigan University were it is a required part of orientation for all incoming freshman students. No Zebras is facilitated by Steve Thompson, a sex crimes profiler and the program is run by members of the Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates, and each topic is supplemented by current statistical information.

In addition to providing data, educators will give context of the scenes, talk about implications, and how to effectively engage in a pro-social way to end the cycle of aggression. The scenes and education comes from Thompson’s and the advocates experience as educators and advocates to show the realities of sexual aggression.

The presentation consists of eleven vignettes with discussion between each vignette.

Objectives of the program include:

1.  After seeing this presentation, participants will be able to explain how negative myths concerning sexual aggression were formed and their effect on societal attitudes.

2.  After seeing this presentation, participants will be able to define sexual assault and describe the differences between consent and coercion.

3.  After seeing this presentation, participants will be able to list the most common characteristics of the Nice Guy (Familiar Rapist), and his sequence of behavior to assault.

4.  After seeing this presentation, participants will be able to describe the Bystander Process, and what they can do to engage bystanders in sexual aggression prevention.

5.  After seeing this presentation, participants will be able to discuss the impact of sexual aggression and have concrete, street applicable strategies to deal with it.


One Act

A large research university in south eastern United States developed two complementary skills-based training programs to address IPV among students. One Act was developed alongside student leaders in 2010 to train students on IPV prevention by interrupting the bystander effect and taking action. During the pilot year of One Act, student participants were asked to complete a process evaluation at the end of the training, including such information as what participants liked most about the program and which scenarios seemed realistic. This data was used to adapt the program to fit with the context and specific needs of the campus community and student body. Starting in its second year, an outcome evaluation was implemented to compare participants’ attitudes and behaviors before and after training. The training objectives include: addressing date rape attitudes and behaviors, improving bystanders’ efficacy, willingness to help, and behavior.


Student Emergency Medical Services (SEMS)

The Student Emergency Medical Services (SEMS) program was launched by students at the University of Colorado Boulder with support from faculty advisor and medical director. The primary goal of the SEMS is to maximize alcohol prevention efforts through education. The secondary goal is to effectively treat alcohol- and- drug-related emergencies and injuries in a timely manner.

SEMS Program Organization, Selection and Training: The SEMS program offers students three levels of participation, each requiring different time and training commitments.

  • The first level of the program involves peer-to-peer alcohol education of incoming freshman. Approximately 100 peer-to-peer student educators are selected to participate in SEMS at this level. The students are trained to teach peers about the dangers of binge drinking, alcohol and drug poisoning, and the risks of college social life. They are also trained to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning and other alcohol-related consequences. SEMS peer-to-peer student educators routinely provide education classes to member of the Greek community, residence halls, and other student organizations.
  • The second level of the program trains “student liaisons” to act as peer responders. Approximately 27 student liaisons participate in SEMS and are trained in CPR, first aid, and alcohol or drug emergency preparedness. After completing the training, student liaisons act as peer responders at social engagements hosted by their own organization or at other social events where alcohol-related emergencies may occur. Members of Greek organizations, education majors, pre-dental, and pre-medical students are some of the groups through which SEMS recruits students to participate at this level.
  • The third level of the program involves student EMTs. Approximately 70 EMTs participate in SEMS at this level. Students who are already certified or who are interested in becoming certified EMTs are recruited for this position. The student EMTs are trained, licensed, and certified to be onsite events where alcohol is served or which are otherwise considered to be “high-risk.” SEMS EMTs are trained in SEMS protocols, the types of patients commonly treated by SEMS personnel, and SEMS-specific documentation on patient contact. They serve at student-organized or campus-affiliated social and sporting events where alcohol and drug related incidents are likely to occur.

Student Recruitment
Nearly 40% of SEMS participants are also Greek organization members. “We’ve consciously tried to maintain that percentage,” says Dr. Young. “We felt from the beginning that if we didn’t have membership and leadership that was Greek, this program would fail.” In addition to members of Greek organizations, education majors, pre-dental, and pre-med students are recruited through a variety of mechanisms that include volunteer fairs, freshman orientation, the SEMS website, and word of mouth.

Red Watch Band

The Red Watch Band movement is designed to end alcohol overdose deaths by teaching students how to handle alcohol emergencies and summon professional help. The program is headquartered at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and started after a Sony Brook faculty member’s son died from an alcohol overdose. The program is run out of the counseling center by Laura Hunter, the program’s national coordinator and a substance abuse counselor.

Red Watch Band provides campus community members with the knowledge, awareness, and skills to prevent student toxic drinking deaths. Red Watch Band differs from other programs because it focuses a lot the training around certifying student in CPR while teaching them the signs of an alcohol overdose and when to and why to call for help. After completing the training program on how to recognize and respond to alcohol emergencies, the students receive a red watch. It is meant to symbolize that students are watching over each other. Like any bystander program, Red Watch Band should be used in conjunction with other strategies like judicial systems, post-incident intervention, and education.

Step Up!

The University of Arizona C.A.T.S. Life Skills Program, along with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and national leading experts, has developed a new program called STEP UP! Be a Leader, Make a Difference.

The goals of STEP UP!

  • Raise awareness of helping behaviors
  • Increase motivation to help
  • Develop skills and confidence when responding to problems or concerns
  • Ensure the safety and well-being of self and others

STEP UP! training provides a framework explaining the bystander effect, reviews relevant research and teaches skills for intervening successfully using the 5 Decision Making Steps:

  • Notice the event
  • Interpret the event as a problem
  • Assume personal responsibility
  • Know how to help
  • Implement the help

The program also introduced the S.E.E. Model (Safe; Early; Effective). Students learn strategies and techniques to intervene directly or indirectly in both emergency and nonemergency situations. The unique interdisciplinary approach is a framework for addressing any problematic situation and focuses on the majority of students who want to do the right thing.

STEP UP is built on research-based practices such as social norms clarification and skill building. The program can be delivered in one 150-190 minute session or it can be divided into two parts of 75-90 minutes each. The program includes PowerPoint slides, DVD clips, audience response technology questions, and facilitator and participant manuals. It has been used with many target audiences including: Athletics, Greeks, Residence Life, Student Affairs, Campus Health, Sexual Assault Centers, Leadership Organizations. It includes a variety of topics including an alcohol-focused section of bystander training. At the University of Arizona the sessions are held several times a year: during orientation for first-year students, hazing week, and in preparation for spring break.


Men’s Program

The Men’s Program by John Foubert is a one hour workshop titled “How to Help a Sexual Assault Survivor: What Men Can Do.” The Men’s Program is usually presented by trained male peer educators to all-male groups, however many other have presented the program, including women in rape crisis centers and university settings where male presenters are not currently available.

The Men’s Program opens with a non-confrontational tone, defining rape and sexual assault. Next, presenters show a 15 minute video where a police trainer describes a male-on-male rape experience that is designed to teach men how rape feels from a survivor’s perspective. The presenters make connection between the male-on-male rape that was viewed and a male-on-female rape to enhance men’s understanding of and empathy toward rape survivors. After noting that the experience the police officer had is similar to that which has been experienced by one in four college women, participants learn to help a woman recover from a rape experience who comes to them seeking assistance and support. Participants hear what men can do in their own behavior to help prevent rape including defining consent and using effective bystander intervention strategies. The final section focuses on bystander intervention in alcohol-related situations and sexual assault. In this interactive section, participants are taken through a guided imagery of an alcohol-related rape and are taught effective ways that they could intervene if they come upon such a situation. Participants brainstorm ways to apply this new information to their own social groups.


Women’s Program

The Women’s Program by John Foubert is an all-female peer education class teaching women to prevent sexual violence through bystander intervention. The program helps women to identify men’s potentially high-risk behaviors by teaching the characteristics of men who rape and situations in which men are likely to commit rape. The program focuses on how women can be effective bystanders with their friends in high risk situations, particularly those involving alcohol. The program also trains women on how to help other women recover from sexual assault without blaming the survivor. The training is 45 minutes in length and involves facilitated discussion and review of bystander intervention scenarios.

According to the creators of The Women’s Program, the program has three goals:

  • To enable women to recognize characteristics of high-risk perpetrators.
  • To enable and empower women to intervene in potentially high-risk situations.
  • To enable women to help rape survivors by giving them pertinent information about rape, a victim’s recovery from rape, and resources where more information can be found.

A study by Foubert founds that The Women’s Program participants reported significantly greater bystander efficacy and greater willingness to help than before the program and compared to the control group (Foubert et al., 2009).

Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: diffusion of responsibility. Journal of personality and social psychology, 8(4p1), 377.

Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help?.

Chekroun, P., & Brauer, M. (2002). The bystander effect and social control behavior: The effect of the presence of others on people’s reactions to norm violations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 32(6), 853-867.

Clark, R. D., & Word, L. E. (1974). Where is the apathetic bystander? Situational characteristics of the emergency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29(3), 279.

Shotland, R. L., & Heinold, W. D. (1985). Bystander response to arterial bleeding: helping skills, the decision-making process, and differentiating the helping response. Journal of personality and social psychology, 49(2), 347.

Berkowitz, AD, (2014). A Grassroots’ Guide to Fostering Healthy Norms to Reduce Violence in our Communities: Social Norms Toolkit.