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Bystander Training Good, but Not the Answer

Bystander training is one way, but not the only way, to prevent sexual assaults on college campuses. This was among the comments made by Annie E. Clark, founder of End Rape on Campus, when she was a guest last Wednesday morning (April 30th, 2014) on the On Point radio show with Tom Ashbrook. The topic of discussion was the report released Tuesday (April 29th, 2014) by the White House Task Force to protect students from sexual assault.

Clark expressed a note of caution when another guest, Inge-Lise Ameer, senior associate dean of Dartmouth College, touted bystander intervention as the most promising practice in prevention. In Hall’s opinion, it is more important to focus on primary prevention, stopping sexual violence long before it starts, rather than intervention in a public moment of violence that has witnesses.

The comments on the On Point website during and after the segment illustrate why simple bystander intervention is limited. The lack of basic understanding about sexual assault is obvious among the commentators, as it is among the general population of college students. This is a fundamental problem when asking people to step up and step in to a potentially violent situation. Without a basic understanding of what sexual assault entails and the ability to think critically about prevention, actions can be ineffective, or worse, they can be dangerous for the bystander and others.

Hall’s opinion that prevention is more important than intervention is shared by many, including We End Violence, and all other sound and thoughtful bystander training programs. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has published a booklet on Engaging Bystanders that urges us “to create more engaging words and images” than bystander. They write, “The reality is that everyone is a bystander, every day, in one way or another to a wide range of events that contribute to sexual violence.”

We are all bystanders and we can practice prevention far beyond being a hero in a single event.

We End Violence incorporates bystander training within education that stresses critical thinking, basic knowledge about sexual violence and survivor support skills. WEV has accepted the challenge to “create more engaging words and images” by developing Agent of Change, a prevention program that moves beyond a limited bystander concept and teaches how to be proactive as well as reactive to the everyday language and attitudes that support sexual violence.

 


Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

If a Friend Is Accused of Assault

What would you do if someone you know is accused of sexual assault? This is a question we may all face, possibly more than once, in our lives. We know that sexual assault happens a lot, and we know that most assaults are not reported. That means all of us know both victims and perpetrators, although, most of the time, we don’t know that we know them.

Perpetrators of sexual assault are among us. Sometimes they are our friends or family members or famous people we admire. It is painful to accept and difficult to know what to do when faced with that situation. Each of us will react differently, but coming to terms with how we hold perpetrators accountable for their actions is an unavoidable task for all of us.

The friends and family of former NFL player Darren Sharper are being asked this question by reporters right now because he is a well-known athlete and in the news for multiple charges of drugging and raping many women. Sharper’s high school football coach, Gus Allen, has a photo of Sharper hanging on his wall. Allen and his wife, Jeri, said they will not be taking the photo down.

“I don’t plan to take it down because that’s not the Darren we knew,” Jeri said. Darrell Jenkins, Sharper’s high school basketball coach, said, “But when (the allegations) first broke, I was just completely shocked. At first you want to say it can’t be true.”

This is how most of us would react. We don’t want it to be true, and, most of the time, the person we know is not someone we would suspect of hurting others. One of the most persistent misunderstandings about sexual assault is that it is committed by someone abnormal, someone not like us. When it’s a friend, this misunderstanding contributes to the belief that the accusation must be a mistake, or malicious, and we grasp for other explanations—maybe the survivor didn’t say no clearly enough, or is confused, or lying. This misunderstanding about sexual predators is among a set of beliefs and assumptions that allows us to sidestep the pain of holding someone accountable for not asking for sex, not respecting the answer, and not caring what another person wants.

There are very few false reports of sexual assault, so when someone discloses an assault, it’s important to believe them. Many people are working hard to change the world so that survivors will feel supported, feel able to speak out and tell someone, or report what happened. Our success will mean there will be more reports, more survivors talking about what happened, and therefore more of us will know perpetrators. If the accused person is a friend, it’s a natural first reaction to want to believe and support them. Just remember, you don’t know what happened but you do know that the vast majority of victims are telling the truth.

If you decide to remain a friend, you can still confront your friend about behavior and attitudes that contribute to sexual violence. You can listen, and be sympathetic to the situation without being sympathetic to perpetrators. Consider your own safety if you continue to spend time with your friend, and be aware of what you say publicly about the accusation and the people involved. For instance, publicly declaring the accusation a lie reinforces the myth that survivors lie about rape and might prevent someone from reporting in the future. It might be damaging to those who are survivors, confirming what they feared about not being believed.

So what do you say publicly? Here are some ideas:

• I don’t know what happened in this case but I know that sexual assaults do happen a lot.

• Nobody but the two people involved know exactly what happened, but I learned that there are very few false reports of rape.

• I’m just sorry that there’s even a possibility that something like this happened.

• This is upsetting for everybody, me included, and I guess it’s an opportunity to think about sexual assault and why it happens.

You may decide that you cannot remain friends. Our societal search for ways to hold sexual predators accountable must include methods beyond the criminal justice system. They must receive a clear message from everyone around them that their behavior is not acceptable, not excusable. Ending the friendship and telling them why is a clear message.

Sexual violence and abuse will end when enough of us learn what it really looks like and acknowledge that perpetrators are sometimes people we know. Predators are surrounded by the rest of us; even when we don’t know them, we can make it clear that disrespectful and violent language, attitudes and behavior are not acceptable and will not be supported.

 


Carol Mosely, Director
We End Violence

Changing Our Culture

Sexual violence is often called interpersonal violence because it is committed by a person who has targeted another individual. The most direct harm is to that targeted individual, and the punishment—if any—is of the perpetrator. But it is a societal problem, not an individual problem. We are all responsible, and we all suffer. Preventing sexual violence is about us. It’s about the stories we tell, the language we use. Individuals commit the acts of violence but the community around those individuals raises them, teaches them, supports their behavior, rewards them, excuses them, and punishes—or doesn’t punish—them.

The Steubenville rape case is known for many reasons. Among them is the sympathy toward the offenders expressed by a CNN reporter in response to the guilty verdict. Her statements were jarring, but her sentiments were compassionate. They were well-intentioned comments, just focused in the wrong place. What is sad is not that the young men were receiving punishment they deserved; what is sad is they were raised in a culture that taught them it’s acceptable to assault a drunk, young woman, then brag about it and laugh.

Even after the facts of that evening were well known, the young men were supported, not just for who they are, but also for what they had done. They will probably continue to be supported for the rest of their lives by people who believe it was her fault, that the guys were acting like any young male might. Because they were. They didn’t behave that way because they are sociopaths. They behaved that way because the dominant messages they had received for their entire lives taught them that kind of behavior was acceptable.

Basic media education easily points out these dominant messages, such as emphasis on rigid gender roles, rewards for sexually aggressive men, and disrespect for girls and women who don’t conform to a narrow definition of feminine. It’s not the fault of the media, however. Media messages reflect us and our beliefs. Pay attention to the everyday language around you and you will hear common phrases about “boys being boys” and “what do girls expect when they dress that way.” Media messages will not change until the society that creates and supports those messages has changed.

Prevention of sexual violence has historically focused on the individuals most targeted. Girls and women have been told for centuries what they should and shouldn’t do to prevent being assaulted or abused. Prevention instructions are heavily gendered, rooted in sexism, and one consequence is that when males are victims, they are invisible. Another consequence is that when a woman is assaulted or abused, the ingrained first thought of many people is, “Why didn’t she prevent it?”

In another recent high-profile case, football players at Vanderbilt University were dismissed from the team after being arrested for the sexual assault of a female student. Just weeks after being charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of sexual battery, one of the players, Jaborian McKenzie, transferred to Alcorn State University and joined the football team. Here are two ways to think about this. One, he has not been convicted, deserves a hearing, and to use his talents as a player. The other, the campus should have waited until after a hearing and should not welcome him as a prominent student if he is possibly a dangerous perpetrator. Either way, the focus is on one individual.

What if the conversation was about us, not him?

What if we talked about why too many boys grow up thinking it’s OK to sexually assault a drunk woman, and too many others of all genders and ages silently let them continue to think this way? It wouldn’t solve the disagreement over whether McKenzie has the right to play ball for another team, or whether his presence on campus creates a hostile environment. It wouldn’t answer the question about what we should do with sexual predators. It wouldn’t change the complication of our unbalanced obsession with football or the racism embedded in everything that happens in this country.

This is what changing the conversation would do: it would get us closer to the heart of the matter. It would help us focus on real solutions rather than handwringing about the inevitability of sexual violence. It would help us all begin to understand that our everyday words and actions have an impact either positively or negatively. We can learn to recognize those moments when saying something as simple as “I disagree,” or “That’s not right,” will make a difference. When enough of us begin to make these statements, the collective impact will move us toward a future where girls and boys grow up knowing that respect for one another is expected.

We can all be Agents of Change.

 


Carol Mosley
Director, We End Violence

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Narrative engages us

Most of us feel strongly that sexual violence is wrong, but the messages from popular culture about sex, gender, relationships–and especially consent–are confusing. Stories can help us sort through the mixed messages and connect our language and behavior to our beliefs. From the time we are children, it is the stories we are told that teach us what our culture believes and what behavior is acceptable. This is why We End Violence chose a narrative format for the online prevention program, Agent of Change.

Yale University agrees.

Yale is now using fictional encounters to explain disciplinary policies on sexual misconduct. Thomas Conroy, a spokesman for Yale, told the New York Times that “scholarly research and the experience of other schools like Duke University indicated they were an effective tool for communication.”

According to the article, the Yale scenarios describe fictional students in a variety of situations which are meant to help clarify the meaning of non-consensual sex. A member of Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale said her group wants to work with Yale administrators to develop more of them.

Narrative is effective for teaching because it is engaging. This is particularly important for topics laden with emotional and cultural baggage. A lecture about sexual violence statistics, or the damage sexual violence does to individuals, will not engage those who believe it only happens to other people and therefore does not concern them. But a story about characters who are grappling with these hard issues from different points of view will create involvement. A story can mirror reality, model behavior and language, and allow us to explore alternatives.

Students in the first-year experience class at the University of California at Santa Barbara played Agent of Change last spring. Here are a couple of their comments about the use of narrative:

“Compared to other trainings, this course provides social interaction about relevant problems in our college society, while
other programs do not. I enjoy the real life examples because it allows me to immerse myself into the situation and use
problem solving skills. Other courses are easy to bypass through the information and not take it seriously, but this training
makes sure you listen and soak in the information that is being presented to you.”

“Instead of just stating facts about rape, stalking, and violence the characters talked about them in normal conversations that
were extremely realistic.”

The majority of the students said the program was helpful. Many of them said they learned new ways to deal with difficult situations.

 Agent of Change accomplishes this by illustrating to students that their actions can and do make a difference and have an impact (motivation); that effective actions can be simple and safe (ability); and that there are numerous common opportunities in everyday situations to take action (trigger). Compelling the student to make a choice reinforces the lesson that each individual has an effect which can be positive or negative. Their choice is embedded within the narrative so they are shown a model of how and where their action can occur.

To read more about the theories used to develop Agent of Change, click here.

To see the independent evaluation that found Agent of Change is successful in challenging students to re-evaluate preconceived ideas surrounding sexual violence, click here.

If you would like to experience the program for yourself, send us an info request form here.
-Carol Mosely
Director, We End Violence

Why Agent of Change

We developed Agent of Change to meet two basic, important needs. One, we need to reach students. Two, we need to reach them in a way that engages them, that shows how sexual violence affects them and what they can do about it. What better way to engage people than through the oldest form of human communication–a story. What better way to reach large numbers of them than through the newest form–technology.

Agent of Change combines the ancient art of storytelling with the new art of video games and contains the knowledge from our decades of violence prevention education. It’s a story that draws people in because they are a part of it. It’s called gameification, learning through interaction in a virtual world.

But no single method of education is enough to end sexual violence, and Agent of Change is not just an online program. We want to continue the engagement people develop with these issues as they play the game. We use all the traditional methods of outreach but these methods are enhanced because they can start at a deeper level of understanding. We’re also using newer methods, specifically social media. Our daily Facebook interactions and bi-weekly Facebook discussions continue themes of the game. Students can discuss the game further, although it’s not necessary to have been through it to participate.

In order for change to occur, we need to engage students immediately by giving them basic information at the same time that we show them how sexual violence affects them. We need to illustrate how we all do things to either perpetuate the violence or to stop it. We must give them the tools to understand what all the facts mean, and help them understand how everyday language can silence or support survivors. Agent of Change does this. Each individual who enters the game must confront their own beliefs–and biases–as they make choices. They have to think about these issues without consulting someone else, or being silenced by someone else.

I have used a lot of techniques in my years as a sexual violence prevention educator: posters, flyers, sidewalk chalking, info tables, class announcements, radio shows, presentations, and discussions. I have always been particularly committed to talking to people in person. I like to answer questions and ask follow-up questions, to respond to specific concerns, to directly counter misinformation, and to confront harmful attitudes and beliefs.

With all these methods there are limitations, the biggest one being the inability to get to that deeper level of personal engagement. This limitation is obvious with passive programs like posters, but it’s also a problem in presentations. If the group is large, the presentation can be entertaining and thought-provoking but not very interactive. With a small group, the interaction is dependent on who talks, who listens, who has thought about these topics before, who wants to be disruptive, who feels silenced.

In addition to the logistical constraints, there are time constraints. The necessity to cover basics like statistics and resources means there’s no time left to tackle the questions that would move us forward: “What does this mean for me? If I don’t rape, and I don’t know anyone who has been raped, then why do I need to hear this?” Agent of Change solves this problem by making it easily accessible, something that students can do on their own time and in private, so they can participate fully, instead of feeling peer pressure to do or act a certain way.

The first online sexual violence prevention programs ranged from awful to OK but were just screen simulations of what I was doing as an in-person educator. They were didactic, imparting facts and “truths” in about the same amount of time as most live presentations, and without the ability to respond to questions or misinformation. I was against them, and there were no thorough, rigorous evaluations to make me reconsider.

Agent of Change was designed to address all these limitations. What you see now is just the beginning. We will continue to make it better, more engaging and interactive. We have rigorously evaluated the program and the data is positive. We will continuously evaluate, and will make improvements based on those evaluations. This is the future of sexual violence prevention and it will help us move closer to our goal of ending sexual violence.

-Carol Mosely
Director, We End Violence

 


 

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