Bystander Intervention: A New Approach to Stop Sexual Assault

Posted on 15 December 2015 |

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“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

bystander intervention trainingNow, whether or not Einstein actually said that is up for debate. But—the point remains. If you don’t change what you’re doing, how can you expect different results?

And when it comes to sexual assault, different results are something colleges need. Right now, it’s estimated that one out of every five college-aged women is sexually assaulted on campus. This is a number that needs to change.

But, the only way to change it is to try a different approach—bystander intervention.

For too long, society and mass media have advised women to stop drinking or “putting themselves at risk.” And told men to stop committing sexual assault. These recommendations are inadequate and unfair because they only address the individual.

On the other hand, bystander intervention includes everyone on campus in the prevention strategy.

How Is Bystander Intervention a Different Prevention Approach?

According to the New York State Department of Health, bystander intervention is different from previous approaches to sexual assault prevention in three ways:

Sexual assault becomes a community problem. There’s no one single person or group of like individuals to blame when something happens—everyone is responsible. And at the same time, everyone can make a difference.

The community becomes an ally instead of a potential enemy. Instead of singling out someone as a potential perpetrator or victim, everyone on campus is included in the solution. This makes them less defensive and more receptive intervening and stopping sexual violence.

Over time, campus norms can change. Because the community as a whole has taken responsibility for the problem, you can affect change on a larger scale and at a faster pace.

Getting Around the Bystander Effect

Unfortunately, without a major paradigm shift, bystanders are unlikely to step in. The more people that witness a distressing situation, the more likely that each person thinks someone else is going to do something about it.

This is known as the bystander effect. And what you end up with is a bunch of people standing around and doing nothing—not good.

According to the Association of American Universities (AAU) Climate Survey, 44 percent of students who responded have seen a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter. And 77 percent of them did nothing, partly because they didn’t know what to do.

Additionally, 19 percent of respondents have seen someone acting in a sexually violent or harassing manner. And 54 percent of them did nothing. Once again, it was partly because they didn’t know what to do.

But there’s hope. states that bystander intervention is most effective when bystanders are provided with active learning experiences that build skills. In effect, they need training.

Bystander Intervention Training That Engages Students

For successful engagement, bystander intervention training should focus on the students and their involvement. Training needs to address the students as adults capable of making mature decisions.

Students also don’t want outdated content that trivializes the issue of sexual assault. Instead, they want to see realistic scenarios that mirror their own experiences.

Similarly, students want to feel like they are a part of the training process. To do this, simply ask for their feedback. Another way is to get their advice on how to conduct the training. You can also ask them to help take part in campus wide marketing programs.

Finally, students respond best to bystander intervention training that connects with the way they consume information:

  • E-learning platforms
  • Mobile-friendly learning modules
  • Contemporary designs
  • Professional actors
  • Social media interaction

It’s Not Just Students That Need Training

Sexual assault is a problem for everyone on campus and requires collaboration.  So, it’s not just students that need bystander intervention training.

Everyone on your campus—students, administrators, faculty, general council and so on—needs it.

And the same as with the students, bystander intervention training for other campus employees needs to focus on how they can intervene when they see a potentially dangerous situation.

To learn more about bystander intervention training for everyone on your campus, fill out the form on the right.

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