A bystander is a person who observes a situation or event but is not directly involved in it. For example, if you’re walking down the sidewalk on Blossom Street and see two cars collide but you don’t get involved, you’re a bystander to that event.
At the other end of the spectrum are active bystanders. These are people who notice a harmful situation is about to happen, is currently happening or has already happened, and then they make a conscious decision to step in and intervene. Observe that same collision but stop to call USCPD and report the incident? That one phone call for help just turned you into an active bystander.
How To Be an Active Bystander
Keep in mind that being an active bystander does not always mean a person has to physically or directly intervene in a situation. In fact, there are times when doing so might mean putting yourself in danger or it may risk making a bad situation worse. For that reason, it’s important to remember that there are many different ways to offer help. We refer to these methods as The 4 D’s of Bystander Intervention: Direct, Distract, Delegate, and Delay.
While every situation is unique and requires active bystanders to decide how to best intervene, listed below you will find several examples of ways to: Intervene directly; distract from unsafe or unhealthy behaviors; delegate out to individuals with special skills or training who are better suited to help; and lastly, offer delayed assistance and support after an incident has already occurred.
- If there is a problem within your residence hall, notify on-campus personnel such as a resident mentor, residence life coordinator or a university administrator. These staff members are available specifically to help in difficult situations within residence halls.
- If a situation requires law enforcement intervention or if it is unsafe for you to directly step in, contact the police. If you feel safer or more comfortable reaching out to law enforcement anonymously, use your Rave Guardian Safety App (free to download for all UofSC students, faculty or staff).
- If a friend comes to you and says they have been sexually assaulted or are experiencing relationship violence, stalking or harassment, offer them your support, then ask if they would like to speak to a confidential advocate at SAVIP.
- If a friend, roommate, or classmate seems upset, depressed, or just not like themselves, take the time to check in on them. If they share with you that they need someone to talk to, consider offering to walk them to Counseling and Psychiatry. If anyone ever mentions to you that they are planning to harm themselves or someone else, immediately contact emergency services.
- If you're in a social situation or at a party and you notice someone in an uncomfortable situation with another person, walk over to the individual who seems bothered and start a conversation with them or tell them you need help finding a mutual friend. Even if you don’t know the person you are trying to help, they’ll most likely realize you are trying to provide them with “an easy exit” and will play along.
- If you’re out with a friend who has been drinking and they try to go home with someone, pull your friend aside and encourage them to call it a night. Consent is a clear, conscious, willing and affirmative agreement to engage in sexual activity – someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot truly consent. You can also talk to your friends about setting limits before the night even begins – make an agreement that you’ll each only have a certain amount of alcohol and that you will all leave together as a group at the end of the night.
- If you are involved in a student organization and hear about hazing practices or experience hazing yourself, report it through UofSC’s Online Incident Report Form or the anonymous hazing hotline. You can also contact a university administrator or a person in charge of the organization and make them aware of the situation. Remember, hazing is a crime.
- If a friend is getting ready to drive after drinking alcohol, insist they call a cab, a ride service or find a designated driver to take them home. If they still attempt to drive, enlist the help of your other friends or get their keys away from them. They may be mad at you in that moment but you could very well be saving them from injury, death, or jail time.
- If you see suspicious behavior on campus, contact USCPD. As a Carolinian, it is each and every person’s responsibility to keep our campus and one another safe.
- If you hear a friend using biased language, consider engaging them in a dialogue and explain why their comments are problematic or inappropriate. Silence is often viewed as complicity, and it’s on all of us to challenge words and actions which attack, degrade or abuse others.
Recognizing active bystanders
The Hero Awards recognize community members who embody what it means to be an active bystander and a champion of the Carolinian Creed.