The benefits of bystander intervention training

12th March 2024

Article updated by Meg Shona Halpin-Webster, Graduate eLearning Content Writer at Marshall E-Learning Consultancy, a Ciphr company

The prevalence of violence and sexual violence across UK universities continues to highlight the necessity of bystander intervention training for all higher education (HE) staff. So what does bystander intervention actually mean?

Bystander intervention is when a person, a bystander, chooses to intervene an event, or challenge a behaviour, that they recognise to be inappropriate or unacceptable. Understanding the necessity of bystander intervention training, for all staff members, is key to driving change and supporting students across campuses and within the university.

Why bystander intervention is important for HE?

Violence and sexual harassment continues to be a issue that many universities are actively tackling. Back in 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that students across England and Wales were over three times more likely than average to have experienced sexual assault. Similarly, the Unsafe Spaces Report conducted by Against Violence and Abuse (AVA) estimated an annual average of 50,000 incidents of sexual abuse and harassment at universities in England and Wales.

To tackle this widespread issue, Public Health England research suggests that bystander intervention is a valuable approach to address the primary prevention of violence within a university environment. Universities have a duty of care towards their students, and it’s important that they are taking proactive steps to protect their students from violence ad prevent these incidents from occuring. Bystander intervention training is a firm step in the right direction to achieve this.

We’re all in this together: why all staff members must undergo this training

1. Education and awareness is key

Bystander intervention training is important for educating staff members, and students, on what constitutes inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour. A firm understanding of the types of behaviour to look out for is the first step to ensuring that staff members can recognise and challenge it when it occurs. This training is also important to make sure that staff members are aware of their responsibility within their role and within the university more widely, to support and protect students from violence and harassment.

2. Students deserve round-the-clock support

As mentioned, universities have a duty of care to their students and their support should not be limited. All staff members must be educated on how to support their students in the event of an assault, or a disclosure, from heads of department all the way down to college porters and night-time staff. Resources and support should not be limited to daytime, working day hours, instead, this support should be available at all times. By training all staff members, student support is accessible whenever students need it.

3. The greater the intervention, the lesser the violence

Public Health England’s research into this area suggested that bystander intervention has the potential to prevent violence from occurring across university settings. They outlined that bystander intervention decreases:

  • Perpetration of violence
  • The likelihood of perpetrating violence
  • Violence victimisation
  • Rape myth acceptance
  • Sexist attitudes
  • Denial of violence

The research also highlighted that bystander intervention increases:

  • Knowledge about violence, including consent, the prevalence of violence and the definitions of it
  • Empathy towards victims
  • Bystander interventions made
  • Responsibility to make interventions
  • Confidence and intention to intervene

Meeting expectations with bystander intervention training from Marshalls

As we await the Office for Students (OfS) consultation on a new approach to regulating harassment and sexual misconduct to be published, we can only continue to refer to the OfS’s expectations, updated in 2023.

To help you meet these expectations, and prepare for the upcoming guidance, we have created a general Being an Active Bystander training course designed to equip learners with knowledge about what an active bystander is, how to become one and why it is important. We also have a Bystander Intervention training course which was developed in collaboration with two universities, the University of Coventry and the University of Warwick, demonstrating it’s applicability to the HE sector.

We also have a HE-specific Sexual Harassment in HE training course designed to inform HE staff about the signs of sexual harassment, the steps necessary to report sexual harassment and empower staff members with the knowledge and tools needed to take action.

These eLearning training courses are valuable resources to help increase awareness and action across your institution, working towards the prevention of violence and the protection of students.

For more information about our bystander intervention training, or any of our HE-focused training courses, please contact us. You can also access a 14-day free trail of any of our innovative and accessible eLearning courses.

This article was first published in November 2019. It was updated in March 2024 for relevancy, clarity and accuracy. 

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