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Bystander Intervention

Be an intervener! Stop these incidents before they occur, and talk to your friends about it so that they will intervene as well! Our goal is to change the culture on the OSU campus by creating a community of leaders and active bystanders. The in-person 1 is 2 Many Presentation goes over specific examples, training you to become an active bystander. We encourage you to request a presentation so that you can begin making a difference on the OSU campus today! Email or call 405-945-3298 to book a presentation and read more below.

The Bystander Effect predicts that people are less likely to help others when there are more people around a potentially dangerous situation. There are many reasons people might not step up to intervene in these situations. First, here is the thought process someone needs to have before making a conscious decision to intervene:

1. Notice a critical situation
Bystanders first must notice the incident taking place. It's important to become attune to what situations may be risky. For example, if you're at a party, and you see someone stumbling as they're being led into a different room or your friend has a partner that is very controlling. These are potentially dangerous situations that need attention. However, sometimes it can be hard to recognize them as dangerous if you’re unsure of what’s happening.

2. Recognize that situation as problematic
By "problematic," we mean a situation wherein there is risk of sexual or domestic violence occurring in the near future.

3. Develop a feeling of personal responsibility to do something
It has been found that often, people believe that someone else will help in a situation where there are many people around. This is especially true if you do not directly know the potential victim. However, it is important to realize that others may also be thinking the same thing. If you're unsure if you should do something, ask a friend what they think -- it might be the case that they've been thinking the same thing.

4. Believe you have the skills and knowledge to intervene
There are a number of different techniques that someone can use to intervene in a risky situation, some are listed below. There is always something you can do to help, even if it is just to pick up your phone and call the police. Further, by reading this information and requestion a presentation to become officially trained in Bystander Intervention, you are much more likely to help those around you.

5. Consciously decide to help
The choice to intervene is an intentional decision reached through this process.

There are many thoughts that might interrupt this process. Think about whether or not you have ever thought of any of the following reasons or heard others describe these thoughts...

Pluralistic Ignorance
"Nobody else thinks this is a problem..." Many times, people think that no else thinks the situation is a problem because no one is stepping in to stop it. So, many people may internally disagree with a situation, but outwardly do nothing.

"I don't want to embarrass myself..." Often, people are afraid of embarrassing themselves or those involved in the situation. This is a very legitimate fear, but it is important to weigh the consequences of a potentially embarrassing moment with the consequences of experiencing sexual violence or other harmful situations.

Diffusion of Responsibility
"Someone else will take care of that..." Shockingly, research shows that the more people there are witnessing a potentially dangerous situation, the less likely it is that anyone individual will intervene because people assume that someone else will take care of it.

Fear of Getting Hurt
"What if I get hurt trying to help…" This is a very legitimate fear that we want you to consider. We always, always, always want you to consider your personal safety before intervening. However, there is always something you can do to help, even if it is simply calling the police. You can read below to find out more about safe ways to intervene.

In order to see how some of these thoughts may play out in a real life situation, here are a couple of videos where this process is evident.

So, what can you do to intervene? The following are steps you can take to keep yourself and others around you safe.

  • Educate yourself about interpersonal violence AND share this info with friends
  • Confront friends who make excuses for other peoples abusive behavior
  • Speak up against racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes or remarks

When attempting to help, you should also think about the 4 D's of intervention:

  1. Distract - Find a way to distract the participants from what is happening. This could look like changing the subject, mentioning another activity like getting food, or others actions.
  2. Delegate - If you are not comfortable intervening, find someone who is. You might call law enforcement or other friends, talk to the bartender, or talk to others around.
  3. Delay - If you are not sure you should intervene, try to delay the situation until you can get more information. This might look like going to the bathroom with a potential victim, turning on a TV, or other behaviors.
  4. Direct - If you feel comfortable, the best way might be to directly intervene and ask those involved what is going on.

Remember, any situation that threatens physical harm to yourself or another student should be assessed carefully. Always consider your personal safety before intervening. Contact OSU-OKC Security at 405-945-3253 or OCPD at 405-297-1170 if assistance is needed.

Read the following examples to get a better understanding of some specific ways you might help.

Example 1:

You are at a party and you see a woman who is obviously very intoxicated, falling over herself, slurring speech, etc., being pulled up the stairs towards private bedrooms by a man. What would you do?

Distract: Who wants pizza??
Delay: Go up to them and say you are about to puke and you need the girl to come with you to the bathroom.
Direct: Go up to the guy and ask him what he is doing.
Direct: Go up to the woman and tell her you need to talk with her in private.
Delegate: Tell the woman’s friend and suggest that she go get her.

Example 2:

You are walking into your residence hall and you see a couple you know standing nearby. One of them is becoming increasingly angry and aggressive towards the other, perhaps even beginning to shove or push the other. What would you do?

Direct: Approach the couple and explain that this behavior is unacceptable and you will call the police if it does not stop.
Delegate: Get a friend or two to come help you see what’s up or call your RA.
Distract: Turn on a nearby TV or ask to borrow something from one of them.
Delay: Approach them and strike up a conversation about class or sports.

Example 3:

You are at a party or bar and you see someone put something that looked like drugs into someone's drink when they were not looking. What would you do?

Direct: You confront the person who slipped the drug and say you saw them do it and you’re going to call the cops or you tell the person whose drink was drugged.
Distract: You “accidentally” spill the drink.
Delay: You strike up a conversation with the person whose drink was drugged before they begin to drink.
Delegate: You tell the bartender what you saw and ask him/her to do something.

Tips for intervening
In a situation potentially involving sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking:

  • Approach everyone as a friend
  • Do not be antagonistic
  • Avoid using violence
  • Be honest and direct whenever possible
  • Recruit help if necessary
  • Keep yourself safe
  • If things get out of hand or become too serious, contact the police

You can also read about the STEP UP! program at

STEP UP! is a prosocial behavior and bystander intervention program that educates students to be proactive in helping others. Teaching people about the determinants of prosocial behavior makes them more aware of why they sometimes don’t help. As a result they are more likely to help in the future.

You can also read more about Bystander Intervention Theory in the following articles:

Darley, J. M. & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4), 377-383.

Fischer, P., Greitemeyer, T., Kastenmuller, A., Krueger, J. I., Vogrincic, C., & Frey, D. (2011). The bystander-effect: A meta-analytic review on bystander intervention in dangerous and non-dangerous emergencies. Psychological Bulletin, 137(4), 517-537. doi: 10.1037/a0023304

Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Latane´, B., & Nida, S. (1981). Ten years of research on group size and helping. Psychological Bulletin, 89, 308 –324. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.89.2.308

Fischer, P., Greitemeyer, T., Pollozek, F., & Frey, D. (2006). The unresponsive bystander: Are bystanders more responsive in dangerous emergencies? European Journal of Social Psychology, 36, 267–278. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.297

Horowitz, I. A. (1971). The effect of group norms on bystander intervention. The Journal of Social Psychology, 83, 265–273. doi: 10.1080/00224545.1971.9922471