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BeVocal: The Bystander Intervention Initiative of The University of Texas at Austin


The BeVocal Model

BeVocal is designed to address multiple types of harm and enhance an individual's confidence to intervene. The BeVocal initiative seeks to promote intervention as a norm of our community, and in turn change the campus culture. BeVocal is unique, as it is designed to build on the existing expertise of campus partners and unite them by using consistent language, content, and messaging. BeVocal believes that while the issues or type of harm may be different, the action steps to intervention, potential barriers and resources are consistent.

BeVocal Steps to Intervention

  1. Recognize Potential Harm
  2. Choose to Respond
  3. Take Action

(Recognize. Choose. Act.)

Step 1: Recognize Potential Harm

What can harm look like?

BeVocal works with partners across campus to address harm, including but not limited to:

  • Concerning behavior assessment
  • Academic integrity
  • High-risk drinking
  • Interpersonal violence
  • Mental health concerns
  • Suicide prevention
  • Hazing
  • Harassment
  • Bias incidents

What constitutes an emergency?

Anything that requires immediate or urgent response

Spectrum of Harm

The spectrum of harm refers to three overlapping spheres (Figure 1) of negative incidents in which bystander intervention can be utilized to prevent or reduce harm. Often when people think of moments of harm, they imagine or reflect on imminent harm high risk behavior, such as alcohol poisoning, a physical or sexual assault, or an accident with serious injuries. These are types of harm we might experience in the moment. Additionally, BeVocal encourages Longhorns to consider how their everyday actions and language might reduce potential harm. Similarily we ask that participants in BeVocal trainings and workshops also consider their role in supporting anyone who has experienced harm. Understanding our responsibility to listen and offer resources plays an important role in recognizing harm and our intervention after the fact may prevent future harm from occuring.

The spectrum of harm refers to three overlapping spheres (Figure 1) of negative incidents in which bystander intervention can be utilized to prevent or reduce harm.

Step 2: Choose to Respond

Choosing to respond is a balance between the person recognizing harm and quick assessment of the situation. There are a number of common barriers that a person might need to overcome to be motivated and willing to intervene. BeVocal promotes strategies to help reduce these barriers and empower individuals to assume personal and collective responsibility.

Barriers to Intervention

Term: Social Influence

Definition: When an individual who observes other people not intervening in a situation, incorrectly assumes there must not be a problem.

Example:“It looks like something Is wrong, but I don't see anyone else doing anything, so maybe it's not so bad after all.”

Term: Diffusion of Responsibility

Definition: The tendency to discount personal responsibility because others are involved. The more people present, the less one feels responsible to intervene.

Example:"I'm sure someone else will dosomething, so I don't need to."

Term: Pluralistic Ignorance

Definition: When someone thinks everyone else accepts a norm and goes along with it. The belief that you are the minority when you are the majority.

Example:"No-one else thinks this is a problem so it's not a big deal."

Term: Fear of Embarrassment

Definition: Showing concern for bringing negative attention to oneself or others.

Example:"I'll be embarrassed if I do anything."

Term: Fear of Retaliation

Definition: When an individual fears a negative consequence or retaliation if they intervene. This could include fear of physical and/or emotional harm, retaliation, lack of support from superiors for attempting to intervene, and negative reactions or comments from others.

Example:"If I say something, these guys are going to make fun of me or not include me anymore."

Berkowitz, A. (2009). Response Ability: A complete guide to bystander intervention. Chicago, IL: Beck & Co.

Burn, S. M. (2009). A situational model of sexual assault prevention through bystander intervention. Sex Roles, 60(11-12), 779-792.

Motivations to intervention

  • “I know it’s wrong and others are probably thinking the same thing.” The idea that an individual identifying the potential harm inherently knows the situation is wrong, assumes that others are also thinking the same thing, and therefore takes it upon themselves to take action.
  • “I care about the person being impacted.” The idea that an individual identifying the potential harm cares about the individual being affected. This person could be our friend, partner, roommate, student, classmate, fellow organization member, sister, brother etc...
  • “I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t do anything.” This is the idea that the person noticing the potential harm is afraid of the outcome if they don’t take action.
  • “I’ll feel better knowing I did something.” This is the idea an individual would be more at ease themselves if they acted.
  • “I would want someone to help me if I was in that situation.” This is when the individual noticing the potential harm imagines themselves in the situation they’re noticing and hopes that if they were in that situation, someone would say something and help.
  • “I have friends here who can back me up.” This is the power of a peer group. When the individual noticing a situation knows that their friends will help them intervene and take action in the situation that’s occurring.

Step 3: Take Action

Intervention strategies, or the way individuals take action, may appear many different ways. In BeVocal, we emphasize that individuals likely engage by taking direct action or indirect action.

Direct Action: An overt or active approach to intervening that requires direct articulation or expression of concern with the situation. Examples of this could include:
  • Ask questions/get clarity
  • Create a distraction
  • Talk/address directly
Indirect Action: Also known as a ‘detour’ approach involving less visible forms of intervening. Examples of this could include: No matter how individuals choose to take action, they are still choosing to intervene, therefore, we make a strong point in BeVocal that there is no hierarchy to these intervention strategies. We want people to first assess their safety, then choose a situation-appropriate form of action that best works for that situation. The most important tool we often forget is asking someone else present what they think about a potentially harmful situation: that is a form of intervention in and of itself.

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