Intervening Safely - 19 July 2016

If you're witnessing an abusive or potential abusive event, before you get involved, ask yourself if it’s safe.  If the situation is already physically violent or looks like it’s escalating quickly, don’t directly intervene. Call the Police.  The only effective bystander intervention is a nonviolent one.  If you try to “rescue” a victim or fight off an abuser, you’ll not only be endangering yourself, but the abuser might take out their anger on the victim later making them possibly more isolated and less likely to seek help later on.

If you’ve decided that a situation requires an intervention and that you feel responsible for getting involved, try following these three D’s to evaluate the best way to intervene.

 1.  Distract

Creating a distraction is an indirect and non-confrontational way to intervene, and it can help keep a dangerous situation from escalating.  You can try distracting either the person about to commit violence, or the victim.  Either way, your goal is to prevent a situation from getting worse, or better yet, buy enough time to check in with the victim.

Examples: Ask for directions, the time, help looking for a lost item, or anything else that you think might keep them from leaving quickly.  Better yet, if you can use a distraction that will get you a moment alone with the victim, you may have a moment to check with the victim and see if they want any help.  In one case a bystander did this by telling the abuser that their car was being towed.  When they hurried out, the bystander was able to ask the victim left behind if they were okay or needed any help.

2. Delegate

Even if you don’t know the victim and the abuser, someone else in the room might.  Friends of the people involved might be in a better position to get involved, and they might have a better opportunity for a sustained intervention than you.  You could say to them, “Look, I’m concerned about that woman.  Her husband seems really angry.  Would you be able to check in on the situation?”

Or, if you don’t feel comfortable intervening but it doesn’t seem like the situation calls for police involvement, look for someone else who might be in a better position to get involved.  If you’re at a bar, look for the bouncer or someone in a similar role and point out what’s happening.

3. Direct

In a direct approach you either approach the potential victim or potential abuser and intervene.  The problem with directly approaching an abuser is that he might end up taking it out on his partner later.  If you’re going to have any direct contact with a possible abuser it’s probably best to be more subtle, like using body language to communicate disapproval and make your presence and concern known.  You could do this just by watching the situation and making it obvious that you’re keeping an eye on the situation.

If you’re going to try a direct approach, your best bet will probably be to approach the victim.  You can simply say, “I’m concerned about what just happened.  Is anything wrong?”  Or, if you only have an instant and there’s no opportunity for even a brief conversation, you could say, “No one deserve to be treated like that,” or, “That wasn’t your fault.”  Don’t try to give advice or judge or blame the victim for what’s just happened.  Use the opportunity to say that you’re concerned, that you want to help, and that it’s not their fault.

Adapted from:

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