Bystander Intervention and Sexual Assault
On Wednesday, Oct. 30, Dr. Alan Berkowitz led an open discussion educating on sexual assault prevention that focused on a topic not widely spoken about previously—bystander intervention.
Bystander intervention is when a third-party person sees the potential for an unwanted sexual incident (or any other incident for that matter) and intervenes, thus preventing the act before it occurs. The idea is that if we promote bystander intervention, we can prevent a good number of sexual conduct violations before they even happen, because in sexual conduct cases, there is almost always a bystander that could have intervened.
Berkowitz is a scholar, author and licensed psychologist from California. He is also an expert consultant to universities and the U.S. Military on sexual assault. His lecture entitled, “Promoting Consent, Preventing Coercion: What Men and Women Can Do to Prevent Sexual Assault,” hit points such as, the logic behind the strategies of sexual predators, reasons sexual assaults are not reported, how to change from a passive bystander to an active bystander, and how to recognize when a situation has the potential to result in an unwanted sexual encounter.
According to Berkowitz, many occurrences of non-consensual sex could have been prevented if a bystander had stepped in. However, people don’t intervene because they incorrectly assume that they are the only one who thinks a situation is wrong. In actuality, it is most likely that that one person is not alone in his suspicions. This is called pluralistic ignorance—when the majority incorrectly thinks that it is the minority.
Berkowitz continued by saying “how you perceive predicts how you act.” If a person thinks that no one else sees something wrong and will not stand up to prevent it, then he won’t either. “We want to have a culture on this campus where most people know that most people will back them up,” said Berkowitz.
Key strategies in turning yourself from a passive bystander to an active bystander include: noticing an event, being able to interpret it as a problem, feeling responsible for dealing with it, and having the skills to act. Berkowitz also made a point of stating that these tactics of being an active bystander apply not only before non-consensual sex occurs, but also after.
In his lecture, Berkowitz said that sexual assault is the most under-reported crime. The reasons for this are embarrassment on the part of the victim, fear of reprisal or retribution, difficulty in proving charges, and self-blame. His tips for how to respond to a victim include: believe them, don’t judge them, be aware of your own personal biases, offer options as to what they can do next, and learn how to contain and process your own personal opinions and feelings.
Berkowitz ended his lecture with a series of bullet points of things to remember: “Most students want to do the right thing; you are not alone; you can be the person you want to be, and others will like you; make sure you always have consent; and don’t blame the victim.”
Berkowitz also said, “You don’t need to go around suspecting everyone, but we need to be prepared to be suspicious.”