Bullies Bystanders and Intervention

Aug 01, 2017



The “bystander effect” is when an individual witnesses another individual being harassed and/or assaulted but does not feel a responsibility to intervene. Bystanders often feel that someone else will come along and help, or that it isn’t their place to get involved. However, this is usually never the case. In the realms of school bullying, bystander intervention could help lessen or prevent physical, mental, or emotional injury. According to National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one out of every five students report being bullied. However, 57 percent of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes.

When most imagine bullying, images of students being pushed around on the playground or in the school halls surface. However, the rapid advancement of technology has opened a vast new avenue for students to be targeted and harassed behind closed quarters. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports an increase of bullying from 18 to 31 percent from 2007-2016. Twenty-four percent of middle school students and 16 percent of high school students reported being cyberbullied. So how does bystander intervention come into play when the bullying happens online?

Due to the ease with which users can anonymously target others on the Internet, most online platforms have strict policies and procedures in place to protect their userbase. If you notice someone being cyberbullied, do not engage with, comment on, or share the post. Instead, flag the post as inappropriate and report the post and the user to the website. It’s even good to reach out to the victim and let them know that they’re not alone and that you’ve taken the necessary steps to get the offending content removed. In severe cases, such as naked photos or threats of physical violence, an adult needs to be informed and involved immediately.

On most social media sites, especially Facebook, there are many privacy settings that one can manage so that they have more control over who can view, like, and share their posts. A user can also have great control over who can follow them. While knowing that preventing a bully’s actions is never the responsibility of the victim, these privacy measures can help users, whether they’re being bullied or not, feel safer and more in control of their online space.

The topic of bullying is often discussed from the perspective of the victim, but what should bullies know about their actions? First, forwarding naked images online is a crime. Under child pornography laws, any minor involved in forwarding naked images of themselves or another minor could face felony charges, up to five years in prison, and registry on the sex offender list. And while online threats of violence or physical harm take more evaluation to determine whether or not a crime was committed, the threats can still be found in violation of the law. So, one has to ask themselves: Is the harassment really worth it?

Parents, especially, have a responsibility to monitor their children so that they’re not on the receiving end - or the perpetrator - of abuse or illegal activity. It’s no secret that bullying leads to an increased probability of unplanned suicide attempts. The effects of bullying manifest through depression, substance abuse, aggression, and suicide. However, bystander intervention is saving lives. Prevent Connect, an online project dedicated to the prevention of violence, describes bystander intervention as a philosophic strategy to prevent various types of violence, including bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.

It’s up to all of us to take bullying seriously. It’s not a case of just “kids being kids” but of protecting children from violence and legal repercussions. And if you are a student, never feel like your voice is too small to make a difference. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”

GirlsHealth.gov offers these bullying intervention tips:

  • Stand up for people who are bullied. Bullies often want an audience and approval. Let bullies know that you do not think being mean is cool.
  • Take an anti-bullying pledge. Print out our pledge to stand up against bullying. Share it with your friends, and let people know what you believe.
  • Take action. See if you can start an anti-bullying club or prevention program at your school.
  • Talk to other kids. Try to learn more about where bullying happens at your school. Talk about what might help. See if you and some friends can go together to talk to an adult at school.
  • Talk to your teachers or principal. Let adults at school know that you care about this topic. Ask the school to host an assembly on bullying. Ask for an anonymous survey to learn how many kids are being bullied.
  • Talk to your parents or guardians. Your parents or guardians can ask your school to focus more on bullying. We have information for adults on the bullying page in our section for parents and caregivers.

About the Writer

Tempest Wright and Taiylor Sharp

Contributing Writer

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