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Bystander intervention training: Take a stand against sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Angelita Colon-Francia
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Bystander Intervention Training, or BIT, is the Air Force's direct strategy to provide Airmen with knowledge to recognize potentially harmful situations and take action to mitigate possible harm to their fellow wingman.

Bystander intervention training is mandatory for all military personnel and for civilian supervisors of military personnel by June 30. The training is designed to address three different audiences: men, women, and leaders.

"Intervention by third parties is often the key to stopping violence and sexual assaults against anyone," said BIT instructor Master Sgt. Kimberly Perez. "Unfortunately, fear, complacency, the desire not to get involved in disputes of others or the lack of courage can result in tragedy."

In most sexual assault cases, there is one person who is clearly hurt. Often, there are others who are affected, and there may be bystanders who saw and heard things that made them feel uncomfortable, but they did nothing to intervene. As a result, they potentially missed a critical opportunity to prevent pain and suffering, especially when the event involved a person they love or care about.

"The intent is to empower Airmen to better recognize how to safely intervene and to give them the confidence to intervene in situations that involve, or have the potential to involve sexual assault," said Master Sgt. Shonda Rizo, BIT instructor.

During each 90-minute class, BIT instructors lead participants through several scenarios based on actual events to stimulate discussion about behaviors that can create environments that allow a perpetrator to act.

The scenarios provide valuable lessons about what can happen if a witness to abuse, violence or harassment decides not to step in and get involved as well as strategies they, as bystanders, can use to prevent or defuse situations that might potentially lead to acts of sexual harassment or assault.

Rizzo and Perez suggested several intervention strategies bystanders can use when they see, hear or otherwise recognize signs of an inappropriate or unsafe situation that may lead to a sexual assault: direct intervention, in which a third party steps in to calm the situation or stop the altercation; delegation, in which the bystander brings in others to help or goes to a superior to address the problem; and distraction, which could involve telling a story to stop an argument from escalating or prevent an assault.

"If the bystander has the courage to step up and intervene, she or he could defuse a potential sexual assault," said Sergeant Perez.

Tech Sgt. Samuel Martinez, a knowledge operations manager for the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, said participating in bystander intervention training has made him feel less apprehensive about getting involved in situations where another person is being harassed or assaulted.

"I feel more confident knowing that there are different ways I can intervene if necessary to help someone in those situations," said Martinez. "There are things that I can do to offer help and be safe."

For more information on the sexual assault prevention program, or to receive assistance 24/7 you can contact your installation Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. Information is also available on the Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response website at