Discussions of ‘Bystander Intervention’ with Tender’s Youth Board

*** CONTENT WARNING – sexual violence ***

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the organisation, ‘Tender is an arts charity working with young people to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence by promoting healthy relationships based on equality and respect’ (Tender, 2018). When ‘1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59’ have ‘experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16’ (Rape Crisis England & Wales, 2018) sexual violence is an issue that effects many people’s lives, making it vital that we address and prevent it from happening.

Tender is currently in the process of creating a new play based on bystanders of abusive relationships. They will be looking at the various feelings and experiences one may face in such a situation and more specifically, what it means to be a bystander. As a proud member of Tender’s youth board, I can tell you a bit about our focus group; where we offered an insight into our opinions and experiences, as young people, in contribution to the early research and development stages of the script. So, without further ado, here are some of the ideas and topics we raised in exploring the following questions:

What is a bystander?

A ‘bystander’ is someone who witnesses or is made aware of signs of abuse (whether that be emotional, sexual, physical or domestic).

How much ‘space’ do we give someone else’s relationship and how does this change if we are closer or distant from that person’s life?

When abuse is happening to a stranger or passer by, a helpful red flag for the survivor could be asking whether they are okay. On the other hand, it can, at times, make you more vulnerable by stepping in. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, it’s worth telling an immediate authority (for example a train guard, if you’re at the train station). If they respond with bias, try to persist as it is in their best interest to make sure that the survivor is okay.

Especially when close with the perpetrator and/or survivor, it can be conflicting to know how much space to give, as it might feel like we need to ‘pick a side’ based on where our loyalties lie. The closer you are to a person, the more daunting it can be to have a difficult conversation. Though it can be disappointing and upsetting discovering that a friend is a perpetrator of abuse, by neglecting to address it, harmful cycles of behaviour can continue. Calling friends out can help them to take more responsibility and become more caring for others in the future. If it gets to a point where you feel like no progress is being made, or even if you just want some advice on how to approach the situation calmly, it can be helpful to speak to a member of your student union, a teacher, or an equipped organisation (I will leave a list of help lines and charities below). You do not have to name names and especially if a survivor has requested that you do no use their name, it’s important to respect that.

What type of abuse/change would need to occur for someone to burst the ‘privacy’ of a relationship?

If someone tells you that they have been abused and are clearly distressed, it could be necessary to help them report it or get advice. If you notice self destructive, anti-social or secretive behaviour, these can all be signs of abuse along with more visible physical signals such as self harm or bruises. Knowing where the line is can be very tricky when it comes to something as private as a relationship. If we have concerns, we can doubt ourselves as to avoid feeling intrusive by asking questions which we may receive a defensive response to. Nonetheless, controlling behaviour or things that seem ‘off’ can often be a cycle of unhealthy, more serious behaviour in private. Raising the issue with someone else who you trust could help, as you may not be alone in your concerns. You may also have the sort of relationship where you can check in on the other person, with emphasis on the fact that you have their best interests at heart. In any case, approaching the situation in a gentle manner is essential to let a person know that you are there for them.

Is abuse within a relationship a private or public matter?

According to the Office for National Statistics ‘20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16’. It can be surprising how common sexual abuse is, especially among women. We are not living in a vacuum, the fact that our society’s structural power systems are built with male bias’s means that gender equality has not yet been reached and subsequently means that abuse in relationships is political. Though normalised gender stereotypes and misconceptions of sexual violence can lead to more incidents occurring, the ‘prevalence of rape and sexual violence could be decreased by educational interventions that minimize men’s tendency to associate sex with power’ (Chiroro, P. Bohner, G. Tendayi Viki, G. Jarvis, C. 2014). As a society, it is each and everyone of our responsibility to challenge gender ideals that normalise the oppression and objectification of women.

Related image
 Personal is Political by Susaina Bose

We have a responsibility to prevent abuse from happening, it mustn’t continue to be ignored, but neither should our own self care. This is especially important when dealing this subject, as it can be very unsettling and effect not only the survivor, but also the network of people around them.

Though the treatment of women and girls in our society is very much linked to our social structures, when someone has had a traumatic experience, it can be psychologically triggering to start theorising and debating about something so close to home. The issue is private, but it needs support, as people can be more easily manipulated when they are isolated, which in itself can increase mental health problems. Abuse must be tended to with empathy, patience and compassion – despite how the culture of silence around it has conditioned us to react.

What came up frequently in our discussion, was friendship. The importance of compassion is vital when a survivor may be traumatised and displaying unhealthy behaviours. This means they are doing what they know works best, in order to cope and protect themselves. Through being tender in our relationships, we can make interpersonal changes that shift the way we think about abuse.

Tender’s strategies

Bystanders CARE

When talking about bystander intervention, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and the options that are available. It’s also essential to identify the level of risk and whether it is suitable to intervene directly or to get help. When talking about bystanders within public settings, particularly where harassment or assault is taking place, Tender recommends looking at CARE.

CARE Stands for:

Create a distraction

Ask directly

Refer to an authority

Enlist others

Create a distraction

Do what you can to interrupt the situation. A distraction can give the person at risk a chance to get to a safe place.

  • Cut off the conversation with a diversion like, “Let’s get pizza, I’m starving,” or “This party is lame. Let’s try somewhere else.”

Ask directly

Talk directly to the person who might be in trouble.

  • Ask questions like “Who did you come here with?” or “Would you like me to stay with you?”

Refer to an authority

Sometimes the safest way to intervene is to refer to a neutral party with the authority to change the situation, like an RA or security guard.

  • Talk to a security guard, bartender, or another employee about your concerns. It’s in their best interest to ensure that their patrons are safe, and they will usually be willing to step in.
  • Don’t hesitate to call 999 if you are concerned for someone else’s safety.

Enlist others

It can be intimidating to approach a situation alone. Enlist another person to support you.

  • Ask someone to come with you to approach the person at risk. When it comes to expressing concern, sometimes there is power in numbers.
  • Ask someone to intervene in your place. For example, you could ask someone who knows the person at risk to escort them to the bathroom.

Your actions matter

Whether or not you were able to change the outcome, by stepping in you are helping to change the way people think about their role in preventing sexual assault. If you suspect that someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are steps you can take to support that person and show you care.


  • ChildLine – 0800 1111 – www.childline.org.uk – ChildLine is a free and confidential 24-hour helpline and webchat service for young people and children in the UK.
  • National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247 – You can free-phone the 24hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge. Calls to this number will not show up on BT Landline phone bills.
  • Galop – 0800 999 5428 or www.galop.org.uk – Galop is the only National LGBT Domestic Violence Helpline providing confidential support to all members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) communities, and their family and friends.
  • Rape Crisis – 0808 802 9999 or www.rapecrisis.org.uk – A telephone helpline service for women and girls who are survivors of rape, child sexual abuse, any form of sexual violence/harassment.
  •  Survivors UK – 0203 598 3898 or https://www.survivorsuk.org – Survivors UK offer a range of support services for male victims of sexual violence, including counselling and therapy appointments as well as online chat. All services are provided by trained professionals who are specialists in the field of male sexual violence and have helped many men to work through their experiences.


Bose, S. (2017), The Personal Is Political: The Journey Of A Slogan, [accessed: 23/11/18] Available from: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/11/15/personal-is-political-journey-slogan/

Chiroro, P. Bohner, G. Tendayi Viki, G. Jarvis, C. (2014), Rape Myth Acceptance and Rape Proclivity, SAGE publications.

Flatley, A. (2017), Sexual offences in England and Wales: year ending March 2017, [accessed: 23/11/18] Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/sexualoffencesinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017

Flatley, J. Blunt, D. Elkins, M (2013), Rape Crisis England & Wales headline statistics 2017-18,  [accessed: 25/11/18] Available from: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php

Tender, (2018), [accessed: 25/11/18] Available from: http://tender.org.uk/

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