Editorial | Feb. 18

Editorial: Emphasize bystander intervention

One in nine people are victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking, defined by Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising Resources & Education as Power-Based Personal Violence, each year. The Board believes that in order to prevent PBPV on campus, assault prevention programs must emphasize “bystander intervention” to overcome the bystander effect. The bystander effect is the phenomenon of individuals not offering help to a victim when others are present. In fact, the probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. Bystander intervention training aims to combat the bystander effect by giving students specific tools to act and prevent potential and occurring instances of sexual assault. In addition to being particularly useful in combating PBPV, bystander intervention training can also involve students, such as males, who have previously resisted involvement in PBPV issues on campus due to the perception that they are not potential victims. Since “bystander intervention” opens up the conversation to all students, the Board supports and encourages the presence of “bystander intervention” programs on campus.

Beginning this past fall, freshmen were required to complete “Unless There’s Consent,” an online training module which promotes a shared understanding about unhealthy interactions and PBPV. “Unless There’s Consent aims to give incoming students the tools to recognize potential cases of PBPV but has less of an emphasis on bystander intervention. SHARE believes RCAs are better equipped to provide guidance to help student victims and survivors in this domain. The Board recommends an increased “bystander intervention” component to the current online training module as well as preparing and requiring all RCAs to lead interactive bystander intervention trainings to their freshman advisees.

Current intervention efforts are typically targeted at women. The “bystander intervention” approach, however, recognizes the importance of involving men in the effort. It is easier for an outsider (bystander) than a victim to stop potential or occurring assault, so it is important to ensure that every Princeton student has the training to know how and when to intervene. Because of the sense of shared responsibility this approach encourages, the Board believes this is the most effective avenue for combating PBPV on campus.

One of SHARE’s efforts in increasing bystander intervention awareness is “Agent of Change,” a pilot online bystander intervention training program endorsed by the Graduate Inter-Club Council. The optional one-hour training was sent to all eating club members and strongly recommended by SHARE and Eating Club Officers. According to SHARE director Jacqueline Deitch-Stackhouse, the program encourages students to use bystander intervention tools to prevent acts of PBPV. The program was directly targeted at current upperclassmen to expand upon the limited training they received during freshman orientation. SHARE found that students who choose to participate in the program (as opposed to participating out of obligation) are more inclined to use what they learn, suggesting that a compulsory online training program is not the solution.

In addition to “Agent of Change,” SHARE offers a small bystander intervention program “StandUP,” which provides workshops to various student groups on campus, including eating clubs and athletic teams to promote and teach bystander intervention methods. The Board supports the efforts of “Agent of Change” and “StandUp,” but believes that the reach of bystander intervention efforts should be augmented. Potential approaches include an awareness week specific to bystander intervention, modeled off of the current VIP week and expanding “StandUP” to providing more accessible and regular student-guided workshops.  While the Board agrees that compulsory training is not the most effective way to prevent sexual assault, the Board recommends using a portion of the SHARE funding recommend by the 2014 Priority Committee to expand the bystander intervention component of the already compulsory freshman training, increasing bystander awareness on campus and continuing the expansion of the availability of bystander intervention training.

Brandon Holt is recused due to his position as a SHARE peer.

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