The Bystander Effect – Being a Witness to Bullying, Harassment and Violence
Imagine the following situation: You’re at a party, and you see two people fighting, then one person hits the other. Many other people witness this, yet no one does anything about it. This is known as the “Bystander Effect,” when the presence of others somehow diffuses the responsibility and no one reacts or helps in an emergency situation. It can happen if you see someone get hurt but it also occurs when people see a violent situation and feel surprised, afraid, and unsure of what to do. Perhaps they think that someone else will do something about it, or maybe they may even appear to enjoy the incident, taking videos or photos on their cell phone.
It can be scary and confusing to decide what you should do if you witness bullying, harassment, or violence while it’s happening, but research shows that when bystanders speak up or get help, they can actually help put a stop to the behavior (such as a fight, child abuse, or a crime) and potentially prevent it from happening again.
Of course, the most important part of any situation is to keep yourself safe from harm. For example, it’s never a good idea to jump in the middle of a fight. Here are some ways that bystanders can safely help:
- Find a safe place and call 911. If you witness someone physically or sexually assaulting someone else, the best thing that you can do is call people who know what to do.
- Tell a teacher or a trusted adult. If you saw something bad happen to someone else at school, or you think that something bad is going to happen to someone because of what you heard them say, find a way to tell a teacher or an adult whom you trust. Many teachers, principals, and school counselors have been trained on how to manage scary situations, and they will know how to help.
- Speak up. Sometimes, saying “STOP” or “I SEE WHAT YOU ARE DOING” can prevent someone from hurting another person. However, it’s important to do this only if you’re 100% sure that no harm will come to you because of it.
- Be creative. Depending on the situation, there may be something you can do to interrupt what is happening. Teens have reported turning off lights or changing the music to interrupt incidences of violence at dances and parties.
Remember, if you witness a violent situation, the first thing you should do is get out of harm’s way and call the police. Not doing or saying something when you observe violence can be just as bad as being the person who caused the problem.