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Bystander Empowerment

You can do something

The presence of individual leadership and shared responsibility is the key to a thriving community. Our positive actions, big and small, can create a community where all individuals feel safe and supported. You might not change the outcome of every situation every time, but believe in your ability to positively impact the lives of your peers and your community at large. You can do something.

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean it’s simple to step-in. In fact, part of our role as active bystanders is supporting our fellow community members who do step-in. This can include acknowledging how difficult it can be and working together to come up with a plan for how to offer support to a student in need. Together, we can do something. 

Arizona State University is committed to creating environments in which all Sun Devils can thrive. Due to an ever-expanding engagement in virtual platforms, this commitment must include our online and virtual communities. Creating a space in which all Sun Devils can thrive means working together as empowered community members within our in-person and online communities to prevent sexual and relationship violence.

What actions are you taking to contribute to ASU’s thriving community? Maybe you have done something recently, big or small, to help out a fellow Sun Devil in need. If so, tell us about it through the following You Can Do Something contribution form.

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Students walking around campus

Identity and intervening

If you notice a situation where someone needs help, but you are unsure if you should intervene or not, acknowledge any bias you may have about the situation. Identity often plays a role in whether or not someone will receive help, or whether or not someone will step in. Intervene to help a member of our community regardless of their race, ethnicity, ability status, gender-identity, or sexual orientation.


Two students having a conversation


Safety should always be of the greatest importance, in both in-person and virtual environments, when deciding whether you are going to intervene in a situation. If you feel unsafe, or are concerned about the safety of someone else, seek help from others and contact emergency services when appropriate.


Students walking around campus at night

Four D's of Bystander Empowerment

Sometimes, people do not intervene because they do not know how to or do not feel confident enough to do so. The different strategies below can be used to intervene in situations where someone may need help. Before intervening, always consider your personal safety. If you do not feel safe or fear for the safety of others, contact emergency services immediately.

Initially, it may seem tricky to act as an empowered bystander within online environments, but the same principles of intervention apply to our virtual world. It is often the format of communication that needs to change. This may mean communicating via direct message, text message, email, video chat, phone call, commenting on social media content and more. 


Speak out! When safe, be direct to intervene in a situation where someone may be causing harm. This might look like saying, “I am not okay with what you just said.” or “Hey, please leave them alone.”


Step in! Interrupt a potentially unsafe or harmful situation by distracting either party. This might look like saying, “Hey, aren’t you in my class?” or “Who wants to go get tacos?”


Know your power! Delegate to others to prevent a potentially dangerous or harmful situation. This might look like asking someone to check in on another person, saying “Go call a Lyft!” or asking someone to contact emergency services while you stay on the phone.


Check in! A delayed response is better than no response. If you didn’t intervene in the moment for safety or other reasons, connect with the person who may need support. You could say something like, “I noticed what happened, are you okay?”

Poster messages

Here are some tips for intervening based on our “You can do something” poster series.

Observe something while in a crowd? You may be thinking someone else will step in.

Diffusion of responsibility is a social psychological phenomenon in which people are less likely to take action in the presence of others. When you notice a situation where someone may need help and others are around, push back on the diffusion of responsibility by demonstrating your leadership.

  • Don’t wait for someone else to help. Assess the situation and determine if it is safe for you to step in.
  • Identify the problem. Once you have identified the problem, come up with a safe and effective plan to help.
  • Step in and check in. Initiate help and check in with the person afterwards. Connect the person to resources.

Notice someone in distress? Are you thinking, “What do I say?”

Sometimes it can be hard to express empathy because we don’t know what to do or say. If you see someone who is in distress, checking in with them can make a big difference.

  • Break the silence. The first step to helping someone in distress is to let them know you care about them.
  • Share that you’re concerned. Practice empathy by putting aside your personal viewpoints and validating their experiences.
  • Recommend Resources. Ask if they are interested in learning about the resources available to support them through a difficult time.

Witness something while passing by? You may be thinking, “This is not my problem.”

When we see situations occur while we are minding our business, although we care, it can be easy to look the other way and hope someone else might help. Sun Devils Assume Fundamental Responsibility for our community. Contribute to the culture you want to live in by helping to solve the problem.

  • Take personal responsibility. Believe in your ability to change the outcome of a potentially dangerous or harmful situation.
  • Assess if community well-being is at risk. If at least one member of our community could be harmed, there is a problem.
  • Offer help or contact someone to help. Your safety is paramount. If you are concerned about your own well-being, contact someone else to help.

Concerned about someone because of something they posted?

Our community members may reach out and ask for help in a number of ways, both directly and indirectly. If you notice something online that causes you to feel concern, don’t ignore that feeling. Instead, reach out to the person to check-in and offer support.

  • Don’t assume that everything is ok. Whether you have spoken a lot in the past, or very little, those around us appreciate when others check-in and create space to have their concerns heard. This helps remind them that you are available in the future, should additional support be needed.
  • Check-in with them privately. Individuals may share that they are having a difficult time or you may notice that their online behaviors have changed. This may suggest that they could use some additional support. Take a moment to check-in with them privately, whether in-person or online via direct messenger applications or a phone call.
  • Offer supportive resources. You don’t have to have all the answers. Actively listening and validating another’s experience can go a long way. Offer resources that can support them now or in the future such as, ASU Counseling Services.

Learn more about the resources available to you and your peers. If the online content involves someone experiencing harm or you are concerned for someone’s safety, reach out to emergency services or if appropriate, ASU’s Mental Health Line offered through EMPACT at 480-921-1006.

Hear something that could hurt? Are you thinking, “Wow, is everyone okay with this?"

Sometimes we don’t speak up in situations where someone has said something hurtful because we can misinterpret silence by others as acceptance of what was said. Silence doesn’t always mean passivity. When people are uncomfortable by words, sometimes we are silent because we don’t know what to do or say.

  • You’re probably not the only one concerned. If you are wondering if everyone is okay with what was just said, others may be too.
  • If one person speaks up, others will follow.
  • Be the first to speak up. Everyone communicates differently. The relationship you have with the person who said the comment matters.

See something that could escalate? You may be unsure of how to help.

Observing a situation that might escalate can be a scary situation to be in. Situation assessment is important to a successful intervention. If you are unsure of how to help and others are around, talk to them!

  • Engage the help of others. Check in with those around you to see how you might be able to collectively assist.
  • Together, create a plan. Listen to each other and decide how each of you can use your strengths to help.
  • Contact Emergency Services if safety is at risk. After you decide on how to act, decide if you still need to follow up with the police.

Notice a friend shared a potentially harmful post?

We don’t always think of bystander intervention as something that takes place in our virtual environments, but we have a role to play as empowered bystanders in all our environments. Our online content can either contribute to, or work to dismantle, the culture of violence. You may be scrolling by and notice something problematic on your feed. Don’t associate a lack of responses from your peers as condoning what has been said or shared. Instead, you can be the first to intervene.

  • Stop scrolling and listen to your initial gut reaction. If it bothered you, it most likely bothered someone else and it is worth taking a moment to reflect on this and come up with a
    plan for intervention. These interventions work to create virtual communities in which all Sun Devils can thrive.
  • Reflect on why you are concerned. You can do this privately or can reach out to a friend to see what they think about the content, they will probably share your concern. If it has the
    potential to harm one member of our community then intervention is necessary.
  • Initiate a conversation. Respectfully share your concern with your peer privately, whether online or in-person. This is a good opportunity to offer them additional resources for
    continued learning.

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