Many of us have had the experience where we’ve been at a party with friends and seen someone pressuring one of our friends into something they don’t want to do. Many of us have probably then stepped in somehow to take our friend away. Maybe it was the pull-your-friend-to-the-dance-floor move or the trip-and-spill-your-drink-on-the-person-doing-the-pressuring move. We probably didn’t think much of it. The instinct came naturally because it was a friend. The thing you probably didn’t realize was that you had created a bystander intervention.
Photograph and styling by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Bystander intervention is basically common sense. In a nutshell, it is when someone nearby (bystander) observes unacceptable behavior and steps in (intervention) to get one of the people out of the situation.
So, if it’s so easy to step in and intervene when a friend is in need, how easy would it be to train yourself to step in even when it is not your best friend? That is what many universities and organizations around the country are doing now to help reduce the risk of sexual assault on their campuses and within their work force. The New York Times is highlighting this movement in “Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault.”
MIT for example has a webpage devoted to bystander strategies. You can find training schedules and first hand stories from bystanders on the site.
The Peace Corps is also using bystander intervention training among many new strategies to reduce risk for their Volunteers around the world. I work for the Peace Corps and have taken a staff bystander intervention training that is available. I was amazed at how easy to grasp the training was and how much of it was something I was already doing.
We still have a long way to go to create a victim-center system in the U.S. Many ways of thinking need to be shifted and more organizations need to take on the White House’s call to action regarding rape and sexual assault. But, with simple grassroots strategies like the bystander intervention training, we can reduce the risk of sexual assault.
So whether you are a college freshman who receives bystander intervention training from your school, a professional who receives training at work, or a person who teaches him/herself how to be a bystander, we can all contribute. A small shift in thinking can make a big difference in the reduction of sexual assault risk. And, by getting involved and involving people you know, you will bring the discussion of sexual assault and the creation of a victim-centered system to the forefront of U.S. policy conversations and shifts in mindset.