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Bystander Action

Help prevent sexual assault: See. Think. Act.

As members of a caring community, we each have a role to play in preventing and interrupting risky situations before it’s too late. Doing the right thing requires knowledge of what might be the right action and a willingness to step up and safely intervene when you see something is wrong.

Consider what might be necessary for you to safely intervene in various situations:

  • EXAMPLE A:  You notice a risky social situation (e.g., a friend has had too much to drink and is being led away from a party by another person).
  • EXAMPLE B:  You overhear language or jokes that you find offensive (such as disrespect for women, objectifying language, lewd comments).
  • EXAMPLE C:  A friend tells you that they have been sexually assaulted and need help connecting with services and finding support.

For each of the above situations:

  • What would you do?
  • What would you say?
  • Who else can help?

Consider these steps to increase your willingness to see, think and act when you notice something that could be wrong.


A key first step is to develop awareness so you are better able to identify circumstances that could lead to sexual violence. Acute alcohol intoxication that makes someone vulnerable, disrespectful comments, gender stereotyping, comments about sexual entitlement, lewd or suggestive comments or gestures directed at a group of women or a specific individual and unwanted touching can all indicate risk.


Feeling connected to or responsible for another’s well-being will provide the motivation to step in and take action. It is understandable that bystanders are much more likely to help friends than strangers and are more likely to help strangers if they see them as part of a group they identify with (like supporting the same sports team). But we are all part of Cornell and have a responsibility to create a safe and healthy environment.

Recognize gestures, comments, or actions that have the potential for risk, or when you believe someone is being taken advantage of or needs some support. And then decide to take action.  It’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of intervening in different situations. These include threats to your  own safety, negative consequences for the relationship with others (those who you might have to intervene with or who you think is at risk), or the potential to change the outcome of a risky situation and help a victim.

We tend to focus on the risks to ourselves but really it’s a matter of considering safe and positive ways to help correct a situation that has the potential to end badly.


  • Know what to do and how to do it. No one is ever expected to put themselves at risk during an intervention but in most circumstances, a small gesture can often make a big difference in reducing risky outcomes. And no one has to act alone, although certainly there are times when swift, effective interruption can do a lot to change a situation.
  • Talk with your friends. Discuss examples A,B, and C above. Consider (ahead of time) the kinds of reactions that might be helpful and brainstorm possible outcomes. Being prepared to act ahead of time will empower you to feel confident should you be confronted with an uncomfortable or risky situation. If you were at risk of being taken advantage of, what would you want someone to do?
  • Look to others to help you. If you notice something wrong, share your concern with a friend or others present. Ask them to help you approach the situation or who you should call in to help.
  • Consider the kinds of help you would want if something happened to you. Survivors of sexual violence report that friends and family do not always do or say things that are useful or supportive and these unhelpful responses make coping with and recovering from abuse much harder. What would you want to hear if you disclosed something personal to a friend?
  • Know the resources.  What kind of support would be best? What are the things that would be less hurtful after an abusive experience? (Review these resources.)
  • Call for help when necessary. There are certainly circumstances that require professional or additional intervention.
    • If you notice someone highly intoxicated and passed out, call 911. If someone appears distraught or in distress, call CUPD or 911.
    • If there is a fist fight or other violent behavior, call the police or 911 for a safer intervention.

Bystanders can make a difference in reducing unhealthy and harmful behaviors; if you see something that looks wrong or is potentially risky: See. Think. Act.