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Should I Step Up? Or Should I Step Back?

You are at a party. During the past hour you notice your friend Chris has been talking to one of your friends named Sam. They seem to be having a good time but it is clear that Chris has had too much to drink. A few minutes later you see Sam put an arm around Chris and start to lead Chris upstairs. What do you do?Image of Teens Drinking

Hopefully, this scenario might bring up a lot of questions for you, and maybe a lot of different emotions.  Have you ever been in a situation like this?  Did it make you feel uncomfortable?  Does reading the scenario maybe make you wonder whether something bad is going on here, or something that is “okay”?

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this—would you do something?  Would you not do anything?  Why or why not?  What do you think about Chris being intoxicated?  What do you think about Sam taking Chris upstairs in a state like that?

In this blog post, I really want to hear from readers!  Let’s get a conversation rolling!

Leave a comment


  1. Kevin

     /  October 10, 2012

    That’s a tough one. There are a lot of variables in the potential scenario. Off the cuff, I would “casually” pop by to see what’s going on.

    • Hey Kevin! I’d love to hear more about what some of the variables are that grabbed your attention! I think the idea of “popping by” to see what’s going on could be a really good approach. Not all intervention has to be dramatic and confrontational, after all. One of the things that I want to talk about in the blog as it goes along is different strategies of intervening. The real danger/temptation that a lot of us as human beings fall into is the temptation to assume someone else will take care of a situation or that we are not qualified to help. Obviously, sometimes this COULD be the case (I don’t think I’d feel overwhelmingly qualified to intervene if somebody had a gun, for example) but sometimes that is not. So the idea of healthy bystander intervention is important. 🙂

      • Kevin

         /  October 11, 2012

        The most obvious variable is to ask why they are going upstairs. The assumption is sex, but that might not be the case.

  2. santiagosgrimoire

     /  October 10, 2012

    So who is the guy and who is the girl? Chris and Sam are somewhat ambiguous names. I suppose they are being used for that ambiguity but I thought I’d start with that little tidbit. (A girl I crushed on for years was named Samantha and we always called her Sam so that jumps out to me.)

    Yes, it’s easy to assume that Chris is the girl and Sam is the guy. And the scenario, by in large, is easily set on the angle of girl being taken advantage of. So for the moment at least I will go from that potentially false assumption.

    Assuming I saw this in time I’d likely make a pass on the conversation before “Sam” took “Chris” upstairs. Assessing the conversation, it’s content and it’s intent before things got to far is something I’ve done in the past and something I would do again in the future. And I’d certainly talk to “Chris” about taking it easy and pointing out how drunk “she” is getting.

    Is it necessary to get in “Sam’s” face? Maybe. It’s easy enough to say to “Sam” that if there is something real developing then it will be there tomorrow when “Chris” is sober. Again, a conversation I’ve had in the past. (When you hang out with a lot of people who like to party at camping events you tend to pay attention to whose doing what around your camp fire.)

    Not more than two weeks ago I found myself hosting a very drunk young lady who was put into the care of a young man that she trusted after being taken away from a different man who was getting a little to rambunctious. Staying up late and getting enough water and food into the young lady to know that she was sobering up and getting back in control of her faculties just ended up being a duty to perform, but I was okay with it and I have to commend the young man she did stay with who took direct care of her because he was a gentleman the entire time even fending off one or two advances she made on him!

    Is this the norm? Among my circles, yes. But out in the rest of the world at large not so much.

    But I wonder if it might be different if “Chris” and “Sam” are both guys? Both girls? The obvious “well, they won’t get pregnant” answer pertains, but that’s hardly the issue at all since it’s still one party taking advantage of the other. I’ve never particularly encountered the scenario but I’d have to say that in thinking about it I would likely treat it exactly the same way. Sorry “Sam” but man or woman you are being a jerk if your decide to take advantage of someone in such a state and I’ve never been particularly shy about calling a jerk out when someone is in danger or in a compromising position.

    • Thank you so much for your very thoughtful and insightful reply, Santiagosgrimoire! Since I happen to know you in real life, I know the circles you travel in are full of good and respectful people, and I’m not surprised to hear that you have “checked in” and “stepped in” in the past.

      You’re right, I chose the names “Chris” and “Sam” for their potential ambiguity–sort of an ink-blot scenario where one could read into it the gender of choice, I guess.

      Is it necessary to get in “Sam’s” face? Maybe. It’s easy enough to say to “Sam” that if there is something real developing then it will be there tomorrow when “Chris” is sober. Again, a conversation I’ve had in the past.

      I think that is a fantastic approach, what you mentioned. It really gets to the heart of matters without necessarily assuming that the “man” (in this case) MEANS to be predatory. By doing that, it gives him a chance to back down honorably, without feeling that he is being judged in a really negative way. Are there people who WOULD be intentionally predatory in such a scenario? Yes, indeed and of course. But not everybody. It seems to me this is a great way to intervene and case out the situation. If the person backs down, then problem solved. If they react belligerently… well, that raises the question of “what then?”

      I also totally agree with your last paragraph–about it not really mattering what the genders involved are.

      Sorry “Sam” but man or woman you are being a jerk if your decide to take advantage of someone in such a state

      Exactly. And legally speaking, consent has to be given for intercourse (which, granted is the ASSUMPTION for what would be going on once Sam got Chris upstairs). And someone who is drunk legally CANNOT give consent. In other words, sex with someone who is too drunk to give consent is against the law. So not only is the person being a jerk… they’re being a criminal. Consent is the presence of “yes”… not just the absence of “no.”

      Thanks again for your thoughtful and insightful reply!

  3. Kevin’s comment about variables made me try to think of all the variables that might be in this scenario… here are a few I can think of:

    1. What gender(s) are Sam and Chris? Do any of these gender combinations change how you might approach the situation? Why?

    2. It says that both Sam and Chris are friends of yours. Are they friends of each other, or strangers to each other? Again, does this change how you think of the situation?

    3. Why are they going upstairs? Like Kevin mentioned, the obvious assumption is sex… would you assume something else? If so, why?

    4. Are these people of age, or are they below 18? Or is one over 18 and the other one under the age of 18? What difference might that make?

  4. Jean

     /  October 14, 2012

    This scenario reminded me of an incident that occured when I was a teenager about 16 or 17 years old. I really liked a boy that I was dating. He invited me to his home to watch some tv. I expected his mom and/or his siblings would be around, but no one was home. We started to watch tv, but all he wanted to do was kiss. It made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel like I could say “No.”

    He then asked me if I wanted to go see his bedroom. Looking for any opportunity to get away from kissing and being very naive, I agreed. He took me to his room and showed me around. He asked me to sit on the bed which I did. He sat next to me and then put his hand under my shirt to unhook my bra. I immediately stood up and left his home never to speak to him again.

    I wonder in this situation if Chris might have felt uncomfortable with the situation, but not feel comfortable saying “No, I don’t want to go upstairs” or be extremely naive like myself and not understand the implications of someone else’s actions. Having someone come up and simply ask, “Whatcha up to?” might provide the mechanism to open up a dialogue.

    I never told my parents as a teenager about this situation as I was way too embarrassed to admit that I had allowed myself to be in this situation. I have shared this story with my children to empower them to stand up for themselves and to watch out for others.

    • Hi Jean! I think that is a great point about “naivete”. I also can recall an experience when I was early in college and I actually believed a guy (an artist) who invited me to his room to “look at his pen nibs.” No. Really.

      It turned into more than that.

      I can at least say that while I was nonplussed and felt really STUPID for believing that this visit was about pen nibs (to his credit, he did actually show me his Hunt 101 pen nib for detail drawing! LOL!), I was ok with at least a little bit of exploration. And fortunately for all involved, he stopped when I reached the limit of “Ok” with what went on.

      However, that is NOT always the case. Teaching our kids how to say no and teaching our kids how to respect “no” is not enough. We also need to teach our kids about direct communication and we need to TALK to our kids about sex education and the gray areas that also exist around it. And finally, of course, we need to educate our kids that it is OKAY sometimes to step into things that are “not our business.” Sometimes, for the safety of someone we care about or even someone we don’t know, we have to make something our business even if it is uncomfortable.

  5. Mitch W.

     /  October 14, 2012

    I would say… “not enough information”. For every negative scenario one can suggest, there are also positive scenarios. Carolyn’s questions begin to help sort that out. I would also ask what house/apartment are they at? Since they are “friends” of yours, how well do you know them and what can you determine of their character. Is there any reason for you to believe one might take advantage of the other. I would also ask myself if, other than the drunken state, is one at an advantage over the other. Had “too much to drink” is also a bit ambiguous. Just too much to drive? Or too much to make any sort of rational decision or be able to defend themselves if necessary — at least to the point of crying out for help.

    Are either in a relationship already? Is it with each other? Are their partners there? Are you capable of stepping up if needed?

    I think there are combinations where it would be appropriate to step in and make sure Chris is safe as well as allowing adults be adults. Assuming, of course, they are both adults.

    The key question I would ask myself is whether I think Chris is in harm’s way. If yes, step in or get help if needed. If no, I’d probably ask myself whether the behavior is something Chris would do sober. If no, step in.

    • Hi Mitch! Thanks for joining the conversation! Yeah, I agree that this scenario is WIDE OPEN with ambiguity. And I think it’s sort of cool to see people wrestle with that and bring all the various possibilities to light. I think the questions you bring up are all ones that we as human beings grapple with if we see a situation where we MIGHT intervene, or might NOT. Part of what determines whether we take action or not are these very issues–how drunk is “drunk”? How well do I know these people?

      Actually, I think “how drunk is too drunk” would make its own very interesting blog post–or more accurately, hearing people TALK about the post would be fascinating. It’s a part of the conversation I think that doesn’t often get tackled beyond “you need to not be impaired in order to consent”…but what does that mean? And what are ways we can teach ourselves and our kids about responsibility and alcohol beyond “don’t drink”?

      The key question I would ask myself is whether I think Chris is in harm’s way. If yes, step in or get help if needed. If no, I’d probably ask myself whether the behavior is something Chris would do sober. If no, step in.

      I think that last bit of yours is the crux. Then the next question of course is… HOW to intervene?

      Thanks again, Mitch!

      • Mitch W.

         /  October 15, 2012

        Carolyn, I think much like the “should I intervene” the HOW also depends on the people and situation.

        And yes, the whole “you need not be impaired to consent” is an interesting topic. Cases where someone is drunk or high is what most people would think about — and even then there is nuance that needs to be navigated. But think about someone who is emotionally distraught. I think it’s fair to say their judgement can be equally as clouded (read: impaired). Heck, even stress of daily life can take it’s toll which begs the question does the method of impairment matter? And where is that line of “too impaired”? Food for thought for a future column.

      • Good point about “all kinds of impaired”… from drugs/alcohol to emotional state, etc. I suppose ideally, one should try to take into account, “Is this person I am with and interested in sexually in a space to be able to consent… no matter what the cause of the potential inability?” Sort of the, “If I were in his/her position right now and someone was pushing to have sex with me, would this be a good thing or a bad thing? Would I be ok with it in the morning, or would I have felt forced/coerced/taken advantage of?” Golden Rule, etc.

        But obviously, in real life, these questions become hard to navigate sometimes. Yes, food for future posts. 🙂

  6. Aaron

     /  October 14, 2012

    Title..suggests those are my only two choices.
    I am at a party..what does that mean?..kid’s bday party?..christmas party?..party of 3?..mario party?..on this planet?..what time frame?
    Ambiguous names..Chris and Sam..how old are they?..what are they..how old are you? what are you?
    You notice them..where are they?..tv?
    Too much to drink of what?..poison..water..protein shake?
    What is upstairs?..more people?..a spaceship?..
    Picture for the article..random or suppose to suggest something.
    Questions at the end..suggest self-reflection and experience..or rhetorical

    • Hey, Aaron! Yep, yep… very ambiguous. And yes, there are variations other than stepping up or standing by/stepping back. So I guess a follow-up question could be, “In all these variations of scenarios you can think of, are there any in which you would intervene… and why? And are there any you would NOT intervene… and why? And are there some where you might want to intervene but something internal stops you…and what is it?”

      Ha! I cheat–that’s several questions. See how clever I am? 😉

  7. Stephanie

     /  October 15, 2012

    I think the most important things to do when you are at a party is mind your drink and mind your friends. If you came together as a group it is important to agree to leave as a group. Intoxication can lead to bad judgment, mistakes, and regrets or to having a great time. If a friend is in need of you checking in on them to make sure they are okay then that is what should occur. If we care about someone and their well-being we should jump in to help them out or remove them from the situation.

    • Hi there, Stephanie! Having a safety plan for parties is such a great idea. You’re giving me thoughts for future posts! I sorta want to save a list of safety plan for party stuff now for Wednesday, so I can post on that. LOL!


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