Why Bystander Intervention Matters More Than Ever

Posted on 5 April 2016 |

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bystander intervention mattersSome people don't understand what bystander intervention is about or how it helps in the fight against campus sexual assault. They might think it's only about promoting action when a potential victim is surrounded by a crowd of people, but it’s much more than that—it’s a way to change campus culture.

Preventing the Bystander Effect

When people mention bystander intervention, it usually starts with a discussion about the bystander effect, and what happened to Catherine “Kitty” Genovese. In the case of Genovese, she was assaulted and killed while neighbors heard her cries, but did nothing, thinking it was simply a domestic dispute.

This response of doing nothing has been coined the bystander effect. It happens when the more people there are to witness a crime, the less likely anyone is to step in and stop it because they all believe that someone else will.

And a very important part of bystander intervention is to get students to step in and do something when they see someone is being assaulted or about to be assaulted when it’s safe for them to do so.

For example, if a girl at a party notices a group of guys trying to get another girl that she doesn’t know drunk so that they can take advantage of her, the girl might not feel safe physically stepping in, but she can still call campus authorities to report the situation.

But it’s not the only way students can practice bystander intervention. There are many different things that students can do to intervene when they witness behavior that contributes to a culture that allows and perpetuates sexual assault.

Intervening in Conversations

A large portion of bystander intervention happens in conversation. In many cases, this is the first time that students are exposed to people who are very different them. They are also learning about new ideas and exploring who they are as people.

But at the same time, they are trying to fit in and might not want to stand out from the crowd. Teaching them about bystander intervention helps them in these types of situations.

As another example, a group of students, Mark, Mike, Charles and Jake are standing together and talking after class. Jake makes a rape joke about a girl that walks by because of the outfit that she’s wearing. Mike and Charles laugh at the joke, and so does Mark, even though he feels uncomfortable.

If he were to practice bystander intervention, Mark could challenge Jake’s joke and explain that it perpetuates untrue stereotypes about sexual assault victims, in addition to the fact that it makes him uncomfortable.

This might be the first time Jake ever heard someone explain why those jokes are bad. Plus, Mike and Charles might admit that they didn’t actually find the joke funny, but were laughing along because they didn’t want to say anything.

Mark intervening when he heard something could lead to Jake changing his mind about telling those kinds of jokes and lead Mike and Charles to take action instead of staying silent the next time they hear that kind of joke.

Helping Survivors

Another way that bystanders can intervene is to help a person after they’ve experienced sexual, dating or domestic violence. To create real change in the campus culture, it’s just as important for students to learn how to be there for each other after someone has experienced a traumatic event.

Many times when someone has been sexually assaulted they feel a sense of shame as if what happened was their fault. Bystanders can be friends that intervene in the situation to provide a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear or support for someone that wants to file a formal complaint.

Key Takeaways

It’s more important than ever that students understand how they can practice bystander intervention because it’s a way to help stop sexual assault from happening and to also improve campus culture.

Download this free poster to help educate students on ways they can become a proactive bystander and take action to prevent sexual assault from happening on campus.

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