Why Bystander Intervention is So Important
The recent sentencing of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University student convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, has stirred many emotions across the nation. From Turner’s father defending his son, to a childhood friend providing a pre-sentencing letter written to the judge, to, finally, the victim’s statement, this has been an emotional case.
Rightfully so. As Business Insider stated, “There’s no shortage of travesties in the Brock Turner rape case…. Nearly everything about this case exposes the very worst of rape culture. But there’s one glimmer of hope: it proves that bystander intervention actually works.”
Bystander Intervention Approach
As we explored in a blog post back in December, the New York State Department of Health explains that bystander intervention includes everyone on campus in your sexual assault prevention strategy—making it different from previous efforts because:
Everyone is responsible for prevention. No matter who you are, you can take action to stop sexual violence. And if something does happen, it affects the community as a whole.
The community is a part of the solution. When people are treated as allies in the fight, they are more open to intervening if they witness something happening. No one person is singled out as a potential perpetrator or victim.
The campus culture shifts. Getting everyone involved in the solution and encouraging them to be accountable, has a massive impact on campus culture.
Bystanders in Action
According to the Association of American Universities (AAU) Climate Survey, 44 percent of students who responded have seen a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter. And 77 percent of them did nothing, partly because they didn’t know what to do.
Fortunately, it was two bystanders on bicycles who witnessed the assault in the Brocker Turner case. Not only did they immediately recognize this was an attack, but they confronted Turner, chased him down and waited for the police to arrive.
But why don’t more people intervene when they witness an assault? The statistic of 77 percent of people who do nothing is an alarming one. Many times they think someone else will do something, but that’s very rarely the case.
Without these bystanders, the situation would have ended very differently. However, physically intervening isn’t the only way. If it’s not safe, bystanders can take many other actions:
- Reach out to authority figures or emergency personnel when they see someone in danger
- Provide options and a listening ear to someone who has experienced sexual violence
- Empower your students by letting them know they can play a role in stopping campus sexual assault
- Change the subject away from sexist, rape-supportive or homophobic conversation
- Look out for friends who have had too much to drink
- Help friends get out of potentially dangerous situation
- Intervenes when a person tries to take advantage of someone who is incapacitated
- Educate themselves and others about interpersonal violence and gender inequality
- Proactive Intervention
- Encourage students to act as the two bicyclists in the Brock Turner case. Educate your campus on the importance of being a proactive bystander and intervening when they witness assaultive behavior.