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#SAAM: Get Involved, Be an Active Bystander

The following blog post, provided by Jill Loftus, Department of the Navy sexual assault prevention and response officer, addresses the very serious action of getting involved – or “bystander intervention” –  when you are aware of a shipmate who has been a victim of sexual assault. Too many times society has taught us to, “turn the other cheek,” or “mind our own business.” When it comes to sexual assault, our Sailors are “our business.”   

Sexual assault is unacceptable in the Department of the Navy. It is a crime that goes against our core values of honor, courage, and commitment. Our core values demand that we find new ways to do better. This will not be easy or quick, and there is no tried-and-true formula for success. We are trying to come up with the right message at the right time with an appropriate context and frequency. Today that message is for every Sailor. We are asking each of you to pay attention to that feeling in your gut when the situation feels wrong or escalating – and then, take action. Officially the term is “bystander intervention.” Many of you recognize it as taking the keys away from someone who had too much to drink, diffusing a tense situation to prevent a fight, checking in with a friend to ensure they’re okay, or even giving directions to someone who is lost.

So when you get that feeling in your gut and recognize that a person’s behavior is inappropriate (and potentially illegal), what action should you take? Similar to the actions you already take in the examples of bystander intervention we mentioned above consider these:

• Talk to a shipmate and ensure he/she is doing okay
• If you get the feeling that someone is in trouble, ask if he/she needs help
• If you get the feeling that a shipmate is doing something shady, say something to him/her to stop it
• Make an excuse to get a shipmate away from a situation that doesn’t feel right.
• Did someone say something offensive or derogatory, call them on it and explain you don’t want to be around that behavior

Sometimes it is easier to be that active bystander if you get others involved. Maybe the best thing to do in the situation is:

• Get the person’s friends to step in and distract, redirect or remove the person from the situation
• Notify the bartender, party host or bouncer that someone has had too much to drink and shouldn’t be served, or when someone isn’t backing off of an obviously intoxicated person

We are not advocating that people risk their own safety in order to be an active bystander. When you don’t feel safe, remember there are other options available to you that still provide assistance to a potential victim. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, calling the police is the best course of action a bystander can take.

The choice comes down to listening to your gut and taking action or trying to ignore that gut feeling and the situation that you know needs addressed. The Department of the Navy wants to create a culture of bystanders who are actively engaged in the prevention of sexual assault. Step up. Step in. Prevention is everyone’s responsibility!

Check out some videos to learn how you can become a more active bystander: http://www.sapr.mil/index.php/video-and-audio/featured

For victims of sexual assault, your local resources include your Victim Advocate (VA) and Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC). DOD SafeHelpline has live confidential victim assistance available anywhere 24/7 by calling 877-995-5247, or by chat at www.SafeHelpline.org, or by text to 55-247 (202-470-5546 outside US). For more information visit www.myduty.mil.

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