MSCASA - Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Bystander Intervention

It’s time ... to incorporate the bystander approach into sexual violence prevention

This three-page fact sheet presents a brief overview of the bystander intervention approach to sexual violence prevention, key points about this type of intervention, evidence-based outcomes regarding the effectiveness of the approach and key resources for finding additional information about this model.

Key features of the bystander approach

A bystander, or witness, is someone who sees a situation but may or may not know what to do, may think others will act or may be afraid to do something. Bystander education programs teach potential witnesses safe and positive ways that they can act to prevent or intervene when there is a risk for sexual violence.

This approach gives community members specific roles that they can use in preventing sexual violence, including naming and stopping situations that could lead to sexual violence before it happens, stepping in during an incident, and speaking out against ideas and behaviors that support sexual violence. It also gives individuals the skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors after an assault has taken place. Research shows that this technique is a promising way to help prevent the widespread problem of sexual violence across campuses and other communities.

Five steps toward taking action

(Adapted from Darley and Latane, 1968)

  1. Notice the event along a continuum of actions
  2. Consider whether the situation demands your action
  3. Decide if you have a responsibility to act
  4. Choose what form of assistance to use
  5. Understand how to implement the choice safely

Successful bystander education prevention programs

Everyone has a role in changing community knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. In-person bystander education prevention programs provide chances to build skills for helping directly or indirectly without placing bystanders’ safety in jeopardy by focusing on practicing intervention strategies. Successful in-person programs usually include single-sex groups led by peer or professional educators using active learning methods that involve participants in discussions rather than lecturing to them. The number of programs employing part or all of the bystander approach is growing, but only a few have been scientifically evaluated and found to be effective in changing knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors. These evaluated programs are listed below.

Social marketing campaigns

A growing number of social marketing or outreach campaigns utilize a bystander approach to preventing dating and sexual violence. Here are examples of two campaigns:


Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., & Plante, E. G. (2007). Sexual violence prevention through bystander education: An experimental evaluation. Journal of Community Psychology, 35, 463-481.
Darley, J.M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 377-383.
Foubert, J.D. (2000). The longitudinal effects of a rape-prevention program on fraternity men’s attitudes, behavioral intent, and behavior. Journal of American College Health, 48, 158-163.
Lee, D. S., Guy, L. Perry, B., Sniffen C. K., & Mixson, S. A. (2007). Sexual violence prevention. The Prevention Researcher, 14, 15-20.
Potter, S. J., Moynihan, M. M., Stapleton, J. G., & Banyard, V. B. (2009). Empowering bystanders to prevent campus sexual violence: An exploratory study using a poster campaign. Violence Against Women, 15, 106-121.
Ward, K.J. (2001). Mentors in Violence Prevention Program Evaluation 1999-2000. (Unpublished report.) Northeastern University. Boston, MA.

This fact sheet was developed by Mary M. Moynihan and is part of the CD for the 2011 Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign. For more information, contact the National Sexual Violence Resource Center at or 877-739-3895.

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