Domestic Violence: The Bystander Effect

Behavior changes are a common indicator of a stress reaction, injury or illness. Unfortunately, too much stress can change not only how we feel, but how we act. Knowing what to expect from ourselves and others is key to understanding when we or others need help. This post about Domestic Violence goes beyond the understanding of the Stress Continuum and takes us to a next step – bystander intervention.

An educated mother of five, from an affluent neighborhood suffered more than 20 years of abuse before leaving her husband. She related how isolated she became, partially by design and partially because friends and family were “too polite” to pursue the issue.

A service member returned home from Iraq, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress – while attempting to fit back into a normal lifestyle. While attempting to cope with his “new normal”, his wife berates him with vulgar language in front of his children and friends. Friends feared if they said anything, it would only become worse.

A teacher looks the other way while a student is sexually harassed in the hallways. Colleagues at a party ignore a friend plying a woman with alcohol for the purposes of non-consensual sex. In our “mind your own business” culture, it is not uncommon for bystanders to ignore potential violence right in front of them.

Such stories are all too common among survivors of domestic violence. We often think, “Let someone else do something about it!  I don’t want to get involved. It may cause more problems by saying something.” Often, we attempt to rationalize these types of situations by saying, “It’s just a lover’s quarrel. They will get over it. It’s not all that bad.”

In all of the scenarios/situations above, The Operational Stress Continuum Model, with the four stages of:  Green/Ready, Yellow/Reacting, Orange/Injured and Red/Ill, can be applied to these scenarios/situations. Individual stress levels depend on the individuals coping skills, availability to resources and perceived support from family, friends and their Command.  If bystanders have noticed signals of increasing distress, they need to realize their involvement can prevent, interrupt, or intervene with  cases of potential abuse.  They also need to realize their intervention with a person who is exhibiting abusive behaviors can be accomplished in ways that carry little to  no risk of confrontation. The following are a few examples of nonviolent options for bystander interventions, at low levels of risk, keeping co-workers, the work place and family members out of the Red Zone.  To prevent “Stress Injuries” apply the 7 C’s of Stress First Aid:

  • Check – Listen to a victim’s story and believe them.
  • Coordinate – Find professional to help as needed.  In work place settings, approach a trusted leader, social worker, health professional or chaplain. Tell them what you’ve observed, your concerns, and ask them to advise you on how to proceed.
  • Cover – Ensure potential victims are in a safe place and know how/where to get help.
  • Calm – If you choose to talk to a victim or an offender, who is verbally or physically abusive to his/her partner, do so in a private, calm manner, rather than in public or directly after an abusive incident.  Tell him/her of your concerns.
  • Connect – Recruit help from others.  If you have witnessed a friend or colleague abusing a partner, talk to a counselor, chaplain or a trusted friend to strategize a response in support of the victim.
  • Competence – Ensure all workers feel safe and restore the workplace to an effective productive pace, refocused on the mission.
  • Confidence – Ensure potential victims they have help and try to convey a positive mind set to ensure their self esteem is re-established and healthy.

Military Service Members and Commands are mandated reporters of Domestic Violence. Call your FFSC Family Advocacy Representative, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator or Victim Advocate, or contact your Command Representative for assistance.  Focus on the healthy, “Ready/Green Zone,” step up and take action as soon as possible.  Maintain a positive command climate with frequent trainings that assist service members with defining healthy interaction and positive relationship building at home and at work.  Resolve conflicts early in a helpful and productive manner.

In addition to local resources, national resources for domestic violence victim assistance and support include:

–       The HOTLINE, National Domestic Violence Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). Anonymous and confidential help 24/7.

–       Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) which can be reached through the RAINN Hotline at 1-800-865-HOPE or through its website at http: //

About the bloggers:

Cynthia Jones holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She provided 9 years field experience to Children’s Protective Services and 20 years post master’s degree experience providing services in the field of domestic violence and domestic violence prevention. She is currently working as the Family Advocacy Representative at NSA Mid-South FFSC, Millington, TN.

Julia Powell is an Education Services Facilitator at the FFSC, NSA Mid-South, Millington TN. Julia’s background is over 25 year experience in Education and Law Enforcement. She also serves as the installation Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator (SARC). Julia’s primary focus is education and prevention of as many incidents of victimization as possible, as well as to respond to and empower individuals to take back control of their lives.

This post features military cartoonist Julie Negron, creator of as seen in the Stars and Stripes.

One response to “Domestic Violence: The Bystander Effect

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