Bystanders who see others being sexually assaulted or harassed can do three things.
They can try and physically stop the offender. They can call a bouncer or a police officer to do it. Or they can create a distraction to get the offender to stop.
What they shouldn’t do, however, is ignore it.
“What we teach in bystander intervention is that doing nothing when you see some type of interpersonal violence is the same as ignoring it,” said Rita Lawrence, interpersonal violence prevention coordinator with the University of Florida’s Gator Well.
“Not interrupting is almost saying, ‘you have my implicit permission and I’m OK with you doing that.”
The program, which is known as STRIVE, is currently working to reduce sexual violence by teaching bystanders ways to become involved in stopping it.
That is important, especially at UF: Last month a survey by the Association of American Universities found that one in five undergraduate women here said they had experienced a form of sexual assault, and five percent of male undergraduates reported the same.
But, said Lawrence, bystander intervention has been proven on other campuses to reduce the number of sexual assaults by about 40 to 50 percent.
She said that since its introduction last year, 556 students have attended the training.
The training covers students’ responsibility to intervene to prevent sexual violence, understanding barriers to acting and how to overcome them, recognizing opportunities along the continuum of sexual violence to intervene, learning what can be done and how to do it safely, and committing to intervene to prevent sexual violence, according to STRIVE.
STRIVE has three D’s that they teach: direct, distract and delegate. They teach those options to help bystanders overcome obstacles such as being afraid or worrying for their safety.
A bystander may be direct by stepping into the situation directly and intervening. Distracting is a way to stop what’s happening without directly confronting the offender.
A bystander may also delegate by simply saying something to someone else.
“If you see something fishy, tell another friend, a bouncer, or some type of authority figure that can handle the situation,” Lawrence said.
“Some situations are not safe and you may need to get the police involved,” she said. “You’re still intervening if you just bring it to someone else’s attention and they go do something.”
UF fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon participated in the bystander intervention training last night as part of their goal every month to bring in a speaker to teach them new life skills.
“We wanted to originally educate our chapter on what sexual assault really is,” TKE president Matthew Epstein said.
“To put the nail on the head, STRIVE did it perfectly.”
Epstein said he learned less intimidating strategies for intervention and how to not just be a bystander.
“None of us after this training should feel that we couldn’t handle a situation where we suspect something is going on,” the 20-year-old said.
“We now know very applicable and effective ways to intervene.”
One group that welcomes efforts such as bystander intervention is HeForShe. It aims to get all genders involved in the fight for gender equality, HeForShe UF secretary Whitney Hall said.
“We put on a walk that geared towards rape culture on our campus as well as showing our solidarity with sexual assault survivors,” she said. “It shows that positions of power at UF realize that this (happens) on our campus and isn’t fighting it,” she said.
Said Lawrence: “I’m going to get behind and do it, even if I’m not sure how it works,” she said. “Maybe I can try something rather than saying ‘I’m not gonna get involved.’ It’s a really good thing, and we want to encourage people to do that.”