Home » Psychology » Can a Bystander Make a Difference in Sexual Assault Prevention?

Can a Bystander Make a Difference in Sexual Assault Prevention?


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By Amy Zavadil , PhD (Associate Dean for Equity and Title IX Coordinator at Barnard College)

Federal law now requires colleges and universities to provide bystander skills training to all new students and employees.  Teaching bystander skills to all students and employees in college or university settings is necessary, but not sufficient to shift culture.  The current focus is on campus sexual assault, but sexual assault happens outside of college communities.  Society beyond campuses also needs to recognize factors that contribute to sexual violence, and commit to bystander intervention to shift culture.

An extension of Latane and Darley’s (1970) work in understanding the bystander effect, why individuals may not be inclined to help in emergency situations, bystander intervention is an increasingly common prevention approach focused on the steps that lead to helping.  In response to campus…

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  1. Astha Lama says:

    It good to make people learn the bystander skills in college but I feel like it would be more effective if these skills were taught to students earlier in their life, like how Stancho Kolev^ mentioned. The article mentioned how there is a disconnect and students who do actually speak up are shut down by people who may not have been exposed to the bystander intervention skills. The disconnection and the dismissal would probably be less likely to happen if the bystander intervention skills were taught to students in an earlier stage like high school or middle school.


  2. This article certainly makes a good point of introducing bystander education on college campuses in order to be able to recognize and intervene in sexual assault, and how this education needs to be extended to the wider community, where people might not be similarly educated. I agree that it is very important to continue this educational effort beyond college environment, and would even say that this education need to start earlier than college (high school) and maybe extend into he early career training, that many organizations and firms have for their newly graduated employees coming in. This is a very good initiative to start changing the entrenched perceptions that society has of both victims and perpetrators, and is definitely something that needs more support and exposure.


  3. terri says:

    Terri Thompson
    Veronica Nuzzolo
    09 -16-16

    WHAT IS THE BYSTANDER EFFECT :The bystander effect is when a person observes an emergency situation but they choose to not take action depending on how many people are around when this happens. – The phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help another person in distress.

    HOW: When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are little witnesses. Being part of a large crowd makes it so no single person has to take responsibility for an action . Another explanation on how the bystander effect works is when other observors dont act to the situation, other indivdivals take it as a response isnt needed.

    WHY: when their is a diffusion of responsability , observes feel less responsability to the situation since they feel the action should be shared among the group .

    WHAT IS YOUR PERCEPTION OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY ? My perception of social responsability is people dont actually have social responsability. People are told we need to be socially responsible but in all reality we dont, its untimatley the individuals choice.. I feel the no one has the burden of social responsibility unless they are self aware enough to choose to aknodledge their “responsibility”. Naturally the bystander effect may upset some people but in all reality its just a natural human response. Humans arent obglaited to have any responsibility for anyone but themselves . Not their kids, pets, bill Not even themselves , yet alone Social responsibility.


    I myself believe in personal responsibility , i feel that everyone in the world has a part to play and were all responsible for eachother. To answer the question , No . No i dont believe anyone is responsible to help anyone in need.


  4. Tara Culhane says:

    I agree with you Bailey. I also believe that being a bystander and doing nothing is a crime in and of itself. There are so many different ways that people can help victims of sexual assault in the aftermath, but preventing it will ultimately keep them from having to go through that certain level of trauma. A bystander can do a great number of things to prevent a sexual assault. I believe it’s their duty to do so.


    • Vanessa says:

      Hi Tara, I agree also, the a bystander should be consider a crime, because if they see anybody being sexually assaulted they should get involved and try to prevent it from happening to that person, or call the police. I believe that this would make a difference if people will be more aware of their surroundings on or off campus. A bystander not doing anything from a person being sexually assaulted can same that person from dramitic trauma in their life.


  5. Medgine says:

    Having a class that teaches people how not to be bystanders is an incredible idea. Having the class will make people feel much more comfortable around certain situations that they would not likely get themselves involved in. Although the bystander skills are being taught mainly at colleges, it is definitely a great start. Even if sexual assaults are also happening off of college campuses, the skills that the individual learned will stick with him or her. That being said, if that person is suddenly off campus, at a bar, or anywhere for that matter, and he or she notices something peculiar, the person will then use the bystander skills that he or she learned. To sum up, a bystander cannot really make a difference in sexual assault prevention, but a person who refuses to be a bystander can.


  6. Bailey says:

    I think this is a great idea. Having colleges provide the right ways as to how not to be a bystander are very crucial in society today. It is sad that we have come to this point as to have a course in school now, but I think it is necessary. With the right knowledge of how to intervene, I belive this will prevent a lot of hate crimes in schools and it will definitely decrease the amount of sexual assault occurrences in colleges. People will be more educated on how to defend a victim and being a bystander will seem more so like a crime.


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