Hope Builders: Bystander Intervention Builds a More Cohesive Army

By Mavia HansonApril 26, 2023

The U.S. Army is, and always has been, dedicated to supporting service members who are survivors of sexual assault. The number of service members who reported unwanted sexual contact in 2022 was close to 36,000, a 35 percent increase from 2018, according to the annual DOD SAPR Report. Fortunately, due to military justice reform and the implementation of the SEC. 531-539F special trial counsel, covered offenses such as sexual assault will now be handled by special or general court-martial.

While this change in policy is a big step in a series of changes regarding sexual assault and harassment cases, we, as a community, can contribute to the prevention of these crimes by applying meaningful strategies. One of those strategies is learning how to appropriately intervene as a bystander. Bystander intervention means acting when you see something that is not right.

Simply put, bystander intervention entails transcending from just a bystander to actually doing something to positively affect the situation, says Joshua Stevens, Fort Belvoir INSCOM Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC). As bystanders, people have the power to de-escalate harmful situations that can drastically affect a victim’s life.

Bystander effect is a psychological phenomenon defined by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute as a theory that people are more likely to intervene in threatening situations when they are alone and must decide for themselves whether to do so versus when they are in a group and responsibility is not explicit. There is often a belief within groups that someone more qualified to take charge will step in, that there is an implied risk of embarrassment or reprisal, or that intervening isn’t necessary because no one is doing it. The truth is, each of us must take responsibility and do what’s right when we observe a battle buddy in harm’s way. In situations that require bystander intervention, there aren’t always clear signs to look for; signs can be situation dependent. “If there is an immediate need, there may not be time to look for signs. If your gut tells you something is wrong, it probably is wrong,” says Stevens.

Being an active bystander can make a difference in someone’s life. Here are tips for what you can do.

·      Notice and interpret a problematic situation.

·      Accept personal responsibility to do something.

·      Decide how to intervene using the Three D’s of Bystander Intervention:

o  Direct: Address the perpetrator; remove people from the situation.

o  Distract: Change the subject, ask someone to do something, and mention that someone is coming.

o  Delegate: Arrange for someone to intervene or take people out of the situation.

·      Take action.

Bystander intervention requires courage and strength, and it is an essential step in preventing sexual assault and other forms of violence. “No matter the situation, there are always ways to intervene. Call or text 911,” says Stevens. Bystander intervention is just one way the Army is working to create a culture of respect and responsibility that will protect our service members now and in the future.

The Army is committed to ensuring that all service members are safe and secure, both on and off base. Staff Sgt. Katy Larkin, the garrison interim Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program Victim Advocate with the soldier recovery unit at Fort Belvoir, says, “By living and modeling our behavior after the Army values and Warrior's Ethos, we can establish a standard of bystander intervention against sexual abuse and sexual attack, thereby accomplishing the SHARP program's goal.”

To speak with someone trained to help, call the DOD Safe Helpline for sexual assault support for the DOD community:

Hotline: 877-995-5247

Text: 55-247 (inside U.S.)

Text: 571-470-5546 (outside U.S.)