Skip to Content - Skip to Navigation

Bystander Intervention

In 1964, Catherine 'Kitty' Genovese's innocent death was one that could have been prevented by bystanders.

On her way to her apartment after work early in the morning, she was overtaken by a man and stabbed in the back several times. She screamed for help, and although some heard her, no one came to save her from her attacker. After the final attack, someone finally called 911 and Kitty was taken in an ambulance where she died before reaching the hospital. It was later learned that at least a dozen individuals saw at least some of the attack, but many thought it was just a lover's quarrel, and thus Kitty was left alone to fend for herself. Her death was untimely and should have been avoided based on the number of bystanders who witnessed at least a part of the attack.

In 2009, 15 year old girl was s brutally gang raped for 2 and a half hours as bystanders watched. During the two and a half hours more people showed up to watch and some even participated. Not one person felt compelled to step in and help or call the police. Eventually someone heard this was going on and called for help. The fifteen-year-old was found unconscious and “brutally assaulted” under a bench and was taken to the hospital. The call saved her life.

Don't be just a bystander. Trust your instincts. If you think something is wrong, you're probably right.

What You Can Do to Help

Most people are faced with a situation where bystander intervention is needed. Here are a couple scenarios to help you make a difference.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Scenario 1: You are out dancing with a group of friends. A young woman joins your circle of dancers and begins to monopolize one man’s attention. It is loud, so you can’t hear what is being said. She has moved in the way of seeing his face, cutting him off from the rest of your group.

What might you do? Make eye contact with him (or even send a text) to see if he needs help. If so, find ways to help remove him from the situation, for example, see if he will go out to the car.

Scenario 2: It’s Friday night and you are walking near a movie theater with a group of friends. A male friend spots a beautiful woman. He makes some loud comments about her body and starts to hassle her.

What might you do? Since the “perpetrator” is a friend, you have the option to discuss it with him immediately, later or tomorrow. If he’s under the influence and there seems to be no danger to the woman, you may not effectively reach him until he is sober. You might also steer him away from the woman and ask another friend to apologize and make sure she’s ok.

“Research generated a counteractive conclusion: the more people who witness an emergency, the less likely any of them will intervene to help. being part of a passively observing group means that each individual assumes that others are available who could or will help, so there is less pressure to initiate action than there is when people are alone or are with any other observer. the mere presence of others diffuses the sense of personal responsibility of any individual to get involved." -The Lucifer Effect of Philip Zimbardo

What You Can Do to Help Without Putting Yourself at Risk

  • Approach everyone as if they are a friend
  • Avoid Violence
  • Do not be antagonistic
  • When possible, be honest and direct
  • Get help from others if necessary
  • Contact the police if things get out of hand
  • Keep yourself safe

Step in and give help or step out and get help!