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The Importance of Bystander Intervention and the White House Task Report

First and foremost we are thrilled that the President has made sexual assault education and prevention a priority. It means something to have the highest office in the land be advocating for a higher quality of prevention and response to sexual assault. To put the spotlight on a topic that has been taboo for so long shows that our collective, ongoing work has had an impact on how our society is changing its views and responses to sexual violence.

We agree that campus climate surveys are necessary and LONG overdue. We commend the Task Force’s decision to support such data collection as it will help us to better identify the scope of the problem. It will also help universities to encourage survivors to report incidents as campuses will no longer have to fear that people will equate increased reports with increases in violence. This is an important step in removing the stigma from honest self-reporting and will aid us in creating more effective programs for campus communities.

The new focus on survivor support and perpetrator accountability is also welcome. The suggestions the report makes on providing a wide variety of resources to survivors and educating them about the availability of said resources, including confidential non-mandated reporters, is critical to helping survivors and creating a culture of holding rapists responsible for their crimes.

We are also thrilled to see the introduction of trauma-informed training for campus officials. This will fundamentally alter officials’ understanding of victim dynamics in a way that is bound to be far more survivor supportive. We End Violence is currently creating a program to train university officials and employees on this very topic. We believe it is extremely important that all individuals who work with students are better able to create a safe, supportive climate for survivors.

The suggestions for building collaborative relationships are a good shift towards creating a systematic support system for survivors and activists. Our country’s rape crisis centers provide some of the most important and impactful services in the country. We do hope that as these memorandums of understanding and partnerships are entered into, that recommendations are made to ensure that the burden of work and funding does not fall on community advocacy programs. We have seen universities with large budgets and resource pools request and obtain assistance from advocacy programs only to not reciprocate with support for their new community partners who often are already spread thin. We hope to see this be a collaborative effort both in terms of labor, funding, and support.

The importance of prevention efforts being included in the recommendations, especially bystander intervention efforts and engaging men in the prevention process, cannot be overestimated. We were gratified to hear that the White House Task Force agrees that primary prevention is an essential part in the cultural challenge against sexual violence. In particular, we were happy to hear the emphasis on continuous and comprehensive education efforts, as well as our program’s, Agent of Change, inclusion in the list of the White House’s Not Alone website’s recommended resources. This is exactly what WEV advocates and provides to colleges, military, and communities.

However, WEV believes that prevention efforts need an even stronger prioritization in the report and in our activism. Many survivors will tell no one about their assault, and when they do, often university staff and students have no training on how to respond. We can change this by better educating these communities on the importance of supporting survivors and creating safe spaces. For example, the language used on college campuses to describe sexually active women facilitates perpetrators’ belief in the acceptability of their actions and, at the same time, silences survivors. We would like to see prevention efforts expanded to identify the roots of this culturally facilitated problem.

Bystander intervention must mean more than identifying “abusive behavior” when it is happening. True prevention efforts need to focus more heavily on bystanders stepping up to be agents of change long before someone chooses to violate another person. This is one of the primary foci of WEV’s work and our online program, Agent of Change. By introducing sexual assault prevention education earlier and having it more often, students will have a better understanding of what sexual violence is and a stronger commitment to making a change for the better.

While the focus of the committee and report are on sexual assault, we believe that other forms of power-based violation must also be discussed. Relationship abuse and stalking are driven by many of the same cultural norms, including strict gender roles, confused ideas about relationships/sex, and victim blaming. Our hope is that as this Task Force moves forward it will extend prevention efforts, in particular, to cover more power-based violations.

We think that the Task Force report is an excellent first step for the government in the ongoing global movement to prevent sexual violence. We wish to continue to see strides made towards removing the stigma for survivors and a cultural shift against the casual acceptance of sexual violence. We look forward to the day when we can look back on this report and see how far we’ve come.

 


Jeff Bucholtz, Director
We End Violence

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