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