By Cat Cleary
As a college student and someone active in the movement against violence against women, I have found that it can sometimes be difficult to educate students and academic communities about the issues of relationship violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Often what I encounter are victim-blaming comments, offensive jokes, or a minimization of the problem. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of it because I know there are ways we can actively combat this social issue. Often, though, these efforts are overshadowed by risk reduction techniques that tell students to consume alcohol more responsibly, walk in groups at night, and not go to parties alone. While I find value in each of these, I believe they often are mistaken for techniques that will actually prevent violence. Risk reduction puts the responsibility for the crime on the potential victim instead of the offender. A shift in culture can only come from efforts that go beyond risk reduction and focus on the prevention of sexual violence.
I get excited when I hear of innovative programs and ideas that actually work toward the prevention of violence. Over the course of the past few years, my college has begun to implement a program and educate the college community on the idea of bystander intervention. Prior to the implementation of the bystander intervention program, I attended few programs that truly educated students on the issues and at the same time helped empower them to actively prevent violence. I have come to love bystander intervention because it is active, it encourages an individual to take responsibility for the welfare of those around him/her, and it is true violence prevention.
I have chosen to highlight three bystander intervention programs that can be easily implemented on college campuses and within organizations across the country. These include:
1. Green Dot: “Targets all community members as potential bystanders, and seeks to engage them, through awareness, education, and skills-practice, in proactive behaviors that establish intolerance of violence as the norm, as well as reactive interventions in high-risk situations.”
2. Bringing in the Bystander: Approaches both men and women as potential bystanders and teaches them “how to intervene safely and effectively in cases where sexual assault may be occurring or where there may be risk. Its main message is that ‘Everyone in the community has a role to play in ending sexual violence.’”
3. No Woman Left Behind (NWLB): “Was established to educate communities about sexual assault and to create a culture that does not wait for someone else to take action.” NWLB is a bystander intervention program “created by women for women and the men who care about them,” and is one of the several programs provided by One Student.
I’ve heard that a movement is successful when it is no longer needed. Bystander intervention programs work toward that end and promote an active, positive way that men and women can do their part to prevent sexual violence.