Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Power of Bystanders to End Rape Culture

Sexual assault, rape culture, and bystander intervention are dominating news headlines, fueled by public outrage over several high-profile cases of sexual assault. This isn’t just a problem that is happening in large urban areas or on college campuses.  At Tahoe SAFE Alliance the number of sexual assault clients served has more than doubled over the last year.

In our ongoing efforts to keep individuals safe in their homes, communities, schools, and workplaces, this is a good time to consider the role of the general community in sexual assault prevention.  Traditionally, sexual assault prevention messaging has been around ‘Don’t rape, don’t get raped’ which isn’t particularly helpful as a prevention tool.  But what if conversations were around interrupting and intervening?  What if messaging were inclusive to where ‘Everyone has a role to play in keeping people safe’? 

Bystander Intervention is not new, but it has continued to be a progressive method that has proven to work.  Take the recent case of Stanford University student Brock Turner who assaulted a female student behind a dumpster.  He was caught by two passing graduate students who tackled and held him until police arrived.  Intervention worked.  Yet, despite the powerful potential of bystanders, there are complex, multifaceted reasons why people don’t intervene, according to Jackson Katz, an educator, author, and creator of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Model, one of the country’s first bystander intervention training programs.

How is it that presumptuously caring people can watch such attacks, yet do nothing to intervene?  According to Katz, one of those factors is the pressure of the “peer culture” – expectations among friends, partygoers, teammates, etc. He further explains that an assault within peer culture situations – where most assaults happen -- its not just about stopping a violent act, it requires going against stereotypes and social norms and confronting issues of gender and power dynamics.

While recurring headlines of sexual assaults are disheartening, studies show that bystander programs are changing perceptions and making a difference.  At Tahoe SAFE Alliance, we are having inclusive conversations around sexual assault prevention and the transformative power of Bystander Intervention with students in our community.  Last fall, the Teen Peace Project, a teen peer advocacy club at Truckee High School facilitated by Tahoe SAFE Alliance, created an outreach survey designed to assess how Truckee residents react to violence as a community.  The results were documented in a video that is part of a broader community mobilization effort. (See the video here.)

Bystander Intervention is a powerful tool that is helping to save lives in violent situations like sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.  If you decide to be a proactive bystander and help a person in need, there are some important steps to take.
1)  Assess the situation for safety of all parties involved.  Decide if the authorities need to be contacted.  Your personal safety should be the number one priority.
2)  Decide what action to take.  Do you want to personally intervene by doing or saying something directly to the offender, or do you want to do something indirectly such as making up an excuse to get someone out of an uncomfortable situation?  Think about your safety and options before intervening.

3)  Intervene – with reinforcements, if possible.  Your safety, and the influence you have, is increased when working with a group.

It takes a community in the effort of Stopping Abuse for EVERYONE.  Everyone has a role to play!

Dawn Harris
Fund Development Manager
Tahoe SAFE Alliance

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