Bystander Intervention to Prevent Sexual Assault

TW: Sexual Assault

Bystander intervention refers to action taken by a bystander - a person who is present when an even takes place but isn't directly involved - to attempt to stop the abusive behavior and/or prevent an assault from occurring. 

Bystanders might be present when sexual assault or abuse occurs - or they could witness the circumstances that lead up to these crimes.

There are 5 Stages of Intervention:

1. Notice That Something Is Happening

2. Recognize That Something Is Wrong

3. Take Resposibility

4. Know How You Can Help

5. Take Action

Many bystanders don't intervene when they see something wrong. People oftentimes don't know how to recognize sexual harassment and assault because they adhere to stereotypes and rape myths surrounding assault. How many times do we see someone getting a bit "too much" when flirting and chalk it up to persistence? Bystanders may also not know what to do when faced with an event of harassment or assault, and they may further feel pressure not to intervene out of fear of breaching social norms.

The Bystander Effect is a social psychological phenomenon where a bystander believes that, because there are other bystanders around, someone else will take action or control the situation and so they have no responsibility to do so. The presence of other bystanders refusing to intervene also reinforces the fear of breaking the social norm by responding. This effect often leads to nothing being done at all as responsibility is dispersed on to the crowd.

Challenging the social norms and stereotypes that surround sexual assault is EVERYONE'S responsibility. Many universities and institutions of higher learning have freshman students go through some form of virtual bystander intervention training in order to enter college. This is a highly effective tool for preventing sexual assault and challenging rape culture on college campuses. In 2014, the University of New Hampshire found that 38% of men who saw a bystander intervention campaign said they intervened to stop a sexual assault versus 12% of men in the control group, who did not see the campaign.

Research shows that bystander intervention helps lower rates of victimization on college campuses, but there is still much to be done to improve this type of training. Many schools only require virtual sexual assault awareness and prevention training for students, but in person bystander intervention training has proven to be more effective. A virtual course can't cover everything, nor can it address all the questions people might have.

33% of sexual assaults begin in the presence of a bystander who could intervene and change the course of the event. Intervening as a bystander can truly protect people. That being said, as a bystander you must take into account the threat that may be posed to you and others around you if you intervene. Intervening could bring physical harm to bystanders and potential victims - if you do not feel safe intervening on your own, GET HELP! 

Always step up when it comes to sexual assault - you don't have to e a witness to an immediate event to speak up and help prevent sexual assault. Speaking out against rape myths and sexist language, and supporting survivors are also important parts of intervening as a bystander.