Bystander Intervention Scenarios

In these clips I share stories of myself as a bystander and how I responded, along with advice for intervening successfully.

"I was taught to confront bad behavior pretty aggressively. (Call someone out.) It was never well received and was totally ineffective. It also disrespected the humanity of the other person. I love how Alan builds relationship with the person rather than blasting them."

These clips are from a presentation at Central Michigan University on the theory and practice of bystander intervention. In the scenario?s below I share stories of myself as a bystander and how I responded, along with advice for intervening successfully.

Create a relationship

The importance of "creating a relationship" to provide a context for active bystander intervention.

Figurative rape

Responding to the inappropriate use of the phrase "that person raped me" using different intervention skills.

Responding to inappropriate questions

How I respond to inappropriate questions about myself as a speaker, including if I am gay or if I belonged to a fraternity in college. How I was a casualty of the Greek system.


Leaving a situation as a form of indirect intervention. The unintended positive impact of leaving.

Lowering the ante

De-escalating an aggressive response to an intervention. A story of responding to loud talking on an airplane.

The "parking Nazi."

A personal response to inappropriate use of the term Nazi, based on my own family's experience during the Holocaust.


A story of being an ally based on Muslim's experience of Ramadan in the U.S.

Bystander intervention choices

Lowering the barriers to bystander intervention. The powerful metaphor of "the closet."

"Shifting Attitudes."

Engaging the person in conversation as a bystander intervention option. The option of having an "open conversation" with someone as a way of helping them understand the inappropriateness of a remark. The importance of being interested in what others think.

"The Flight Attendant"
(A very challenging bystander intervention scenario).

How I responded to an inappropriate remark of a flight attendant during an airplane trip by creating a conversation and offering feedback.

"The graduate student"
(indirect intervention).

An African-American graduate student realizes that an indirect intervention is the best way to respond to the inappropriate remarks of her white friends.

"Unintentionally norming the negative"

An experience of a non-drinker being given a gift of free drinks.

"Getting others to intervene."

Creating the world that reflects our values and ideas. Engaging others to intervene.

The following bystander intervention scenarios are from the Response Ability video series. The video is of a group of fraternity and sorority members discussing hazing, violence and social justice issues.

View the entire video on Vimeo

The excerpts below feature Alan Berkowitz demonstrating with participants how to handle difficult situations that have been discussed over the course of the Response Ability filming.

Holding an irresponsible person accountable

A group member does not want to pay his dues but still wants to attend group events. How to hold him accountable?
Play Video

Addressing the denial of a partner violence victim

A victim of partner violence wants to excuse her perpetrator and overlook his abuse. Strategies are presented for helping her break through her denial.
Play Video

Confronting the denial of a perpetrator of partner violence

Perpetrators of partner violence use various rationalizations to justify their behavior. The logic for these justifications is undermined.
Play Video

A heterosexual male's fear of being seen as gay

Straight men often fear being accused of being "gay" and this inhibits them from intervening against homophobic remarks. Confronting this fear, and fear in general of actively intervening, are discussed.
Play Video

Addressing arguments used in defense of hazing

Group bonding is often used as an excuse to perpetuate hazing in social groups. The logic of these assumptions are undermined.
Play Video

Responding to the comment "it's so gay" and other oppressive remarks

Bystanders are often accused of over-reacting when oppressive remarks are addressed while offenders may try to minimize the seriousness of their remarks. Intervention is presented as a positive opportunity to constructively address these excuses.
Play Video

Addressing a request to lower standards for group participation

A group member argues in favor of lowering academic standards for group entry. These arguments are addressed and alternative solutions proposed.
Play Video

Video of Alan Berkowitz speaking on Bystander Behavior

The following video interview with Alan Berkowitz on bystander behavior in the context of hazing and social justice issued was filmed in Sedona, Arizona as part of the RESPONSE ABILITY: Transforming Values Into Action DVD project.