Note: this piece originally appeared in the Mass Media.
April just ended, which means it’s almost summer!
I know that excites many of you—as it should.
The end of April also means that Sexual Assault Awareness Month has come to an end. That doesn’t mean the education around sexual assault needs to end, either. Since summer is coming up, I feel it’s important to discuss the topic of bystander intervention now more than ever.
The Department of Justice reports that cases of sexual assault increase dramatically during the summer months—which is contributed to people wearing less clothing, being outdoors for longer hours at night, and the increase in alcohol consumption during the summer as well.
I find this information troubling, and I want to be able to prepare you in case you need to intervene in an instance of potential sexual assault.
I came to the University of Massachusetts Boston from UMass Amherst, where I did work with the UMatter at UMass campaign, which stresses bystander intervention as a strategy to combat sexual violence. There are a few programs that focus on bystander intervention training—with Green Dot being the most prevalent—so I am going to borrow from Green Dot, which stresses three D’s of bystander intervention. These three D’s were also the focal point of UMatter at UMass.
The three D’s are Direct, Distract, and Delegate—they are meant to be modes of intervening. You don’t necessarily need to do all three, but perhaps a combination of two, or even just one of these modes can remedy a situation.
DirectBeing direct is as simple as stepping into the situation and interrupting by pointing out the problem and engaging participants in conversation about better alternatives.
I often use direct as my mode of intervention by asking, “Is this person bothering you?” or “Is everything okay here?” Or if something is especially distressing, I will say, “That’s not cool!” and then explain to them why.
Being direct is also as easy as standing next to someone so they know they are not alone. Never join in or laugh along. And if a person is mistreated, tell them it wasn’t okay and you’re sorry it happened. And make sure to ask if you can help them in any other way—offering to go for a walk with them is generally a good idea.
Now, some of you might not be completely comfortable calling out problematic behavior, so instead, you can interrupt a risky situation by distracting and redirecting the people involved. This is where some creativity can come in handy, because the goal with a distraction is changing the subject so the potential harm can be diverted.
Distracting someone in a potential harmful situation is as simple as asking an unrelated question about school, a sports game, or to show you where the bathroom is located.
Or, what I like to do is say something positive (like, “Hey, I like your shirt!”) to anyone involved. Distraction is very useful in party situations or on the train.
The importance of the delegate mode is that there must be multiple people around when a potentially harmful situation occurs, like at parties, clubs, and/or concerts.
Essentially, if you can’t intervene alone, get other folks involved. There truly is power in numbers. If you see that anyone else nearby is concerned for the situation at hand, get them involved and call attention to the situation so others will feel more inclined to speak up.
When you have people joining you, actively delegate things for others to do—which is where the other two D’s come in handy, have a couple people direct and some folks distract. You can really make a world of difference by using all three when you have multiple people to support you.
If you are somewhere where there are employees, get someone who works there, explain the situation, and take them to the incident. And if you are on campus, contact public safety, or find bystanders on campus to support you as well.
Bystander intervention does take a great deal of courage and it can be scary to jump into a potentially dangerous situation, but these modes of intervention are meant to be used in situations when violence has not or does not seem to be occurring.
Now, I know that in some situations it might be more difficult to intervene, so always feel comfortable calling 911 or public safety to respond to the incident.
Also, note that bystander intervention isn’t limited to sexual assault or deviancy. It can come in handy whenever you see anyone in harm. Be willing to speak up when you see someone in potential harm.
And if you have any questions about anything related to bystander intervention, sexual assault prevention, or anything else that I’ve covered here, please feel free to reach out to me at Craig.Bidiman@umb.edu, or visit my office in Campus Center 3407.
Be well and take care of each other out there.