As a community, we should adhere to the recommendations of the recent article on sexual assault in the Huffington Post titled “We Know One Way to Stop Sexual Assault, But Students Aren’t Doing It.” It cites a survey considered the most extensive on sexual assault in the history of college campuses that was conducted by the Association of American Universities at 27 of the nation’s top schools.
The article mainly focuses on the bystander effect and emphasizes the use of educational programs to encourage students to intervene when they recognize a situation that could possibly escalate to sexual assault. The survey concluded that 77 percent of students didn’t act when they “saw a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter.” As stressed by the article, this doesn’t always mean there will be a sexual attack, but the numbers are still shocking and colleges are looking for ways to work with students and teach them about bystander intervention.
Part of the issue addressed is the complexity of these situations, and the fact that many students have difficulty recognizing how to approach them. It is certainly a complicated circumstance, but if exercised properly, intervention could lead to prevention, and that goes a long way for everybody involved.
There are several reasons why students may choose not to intervene. Social pressure and legal worry (underage drinking) were two motives cited in the article. Additionally, some students may choose not to get involved in others’ business, especially if the aggressor happens to be a friend. None of these reasons justify non-intervention, but they do provide college administrations with an insight into the complexity of the matter.
As cited in the article, the use of bystander training programs is crucial to advancing education on this matter. It can teach students things such as recognizing a possible sexual assault, approaching such situations, understanding their rights as defenders, appreciating their college amnesty doctrines and their counseling programs and emphasizing the importance of intervention. However, the impact of such programs comes gradually and is slow to develop. As an attentive student body, we should become aware of our surroundings, particularly at parties and other social gatherings involving alcohol that may heighten the likelihood of a possible sexual assault. Although the presence of drugs and alcohol doesn’t always mean there will be an attack, the risk tends to run much higher and it muddies the waters when it comes to clarifying consent.
I cannot stress enough how little the conditions matter. Sexual violence is a serious situation, and it is by far more noteworthy to stop an assault from developing further, no matter how harmless it seems initially, than it is to realize it could have been prevented. Sexual assault is a community problem, not an individual one.
So once you assess a situation, here are some smart ways you could intervene:
1. Call them out: An aggressor will try to isolate the victim, but if you make a scene and embarrass them, they are less likely to continue with their behavior.
2. Friend-to-friend: If you know the victim, then buddy up. Don’t leave them alone with an aggressor, especially if they are drunk. If your friend is the aggressor, tell them to stop and warn them about the legal issues they may find themselves in later. Training programs are starting to focus on engaging men for intervention in order to break away from the stigma of rape culture. So, boys, if you care about your “bro” who happens to be an aggressor, then let him know that what he is doing could result in sexual assault and land them in legal trouble.
3. Be witty: If you’re the humorous and light-hearted type, then use humor to diffuse the tension or distract the aggressor. Be careful not to mock anybody or trivialize the situation. The goal is prevention, not impudence.
Taking action is not an easy task, but it is a lot more rewarding and heroic. According to the survey, Dartmouth College had the highest rates of bystanders taking action in these situations. Not surprisingly, their Bystander Intervention Training Programs excelled at encouraging students to intervene and have been implemented consistently and effectively. Perhaps we could learn from Dartmouth and start pushing for less bystanders and more defenders.
Email Francesca Maestas at firstname.lastname@example.org.