“It’d be better if you kept that to yourself, we don't talk about those things.”
“How much did you drink that night? You should have been more careful.”
"What kind of man would let something like that happen to him...why didn't he fight back?"
“It's been so long, you seem fine, can’t you just get over it?”
“But he's such a good friend...it's hard to believe he would do something like that...”
"Why are you doing this to the family?"
When it comes to sexual abuse and assault, society generally focuses on two people: the perpetrator and the victim. But what about the bystanders? Bystander behavior is a critical part of the culture that supports rape and abuse. Bystander behavior is also a complicated phenomena and manifests in many different ways.
When sexual abuse or assault has occurred, it’s critical that the victim has individuals in their life who believe them, support them, and are willing do something about the abuse or assault. But too many bystanders to abuse play a passive, or sometimes an actively discouraging role. Either of these actions are damaging, as they often keep victims from reaching out to the authorities and potentially bringing the perpetrator to justice. Bystander behavior can also keep a victim from seeking out professional help, inhibiting the healing process by adding to the shame and self-blame they may already be feeling.
Bystander behavior is a destructive force to both survivors and bystanders. Moreover, not taking action often allows more assaults to happen; studies have shown that the majority of rapists and sexual offenders are repeat perpetrators.
Below are some signs to look out for that exhibit bystander behavior:
5 Signs of Negative Bystander Behavior
1. A victim tells a person of trust that they were abused or assaulted, and that person implies that they don’t want to hear about it, doesn’t believe them, or doesn’t offer that person help.
2. A victim tells someone that they were abused or assaulted, but that person tells them they’re overreacting, that they were inviting danger, and/or discourages the victim from telling anyone else.
3. A bystander can be someone who suspects that abuse or assault may be happening, but consciously chooses to ignore it.
4. A bystander can be someone who passively or actively protects a person who they know has assaulted or abused another person.
5. A bystander can be someone who hears about a sexual assault of someone they know that occurred, but doesn’t do anything about it.
If you’ve experienced negative bystander behavior, you’re not alone. Check out our sexual assault resources to get the support and help you deserve. If you think you’ve participated in negative bystander behavior, remember that you are not alone. In fact, we are all bystanders – in small and large ways, and in varying situations. What’s important to remember is that you have the power to change the tide. It’s never too late to right a wrong, and make a difference in a survivor’s life. Reach out to one of the organizations in our sexual abuse resources section to find out ways you can support sexual abuse and assault victims. The good news is that when bystanders become upstanders, they can help bring justice and healing to survivors and also empower themselves by preventing future sexual assault and abuse through bystander intervention.