A recent study of more than 150,000 college students found that the overwhelming majority didn’t do anything when they witnessed situations that might lead to sexual violence. Some data has revealed that teaching students to intervene can actually lower the incidence of sexual assault. Armed with this early research, more and more colleges are offering Bystander Intervention Training to help students identify risky situations and teach them about the best ways to intervene. The White House has even highlighted this problem with the “It’s On Us” (itsonus.org) campaign. One of the tenets of this program is to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given.
Bystander intervention (or lack thereof) has always been an interesting social anomaly. Researchers have long studied Diffusion of Responsibility — a phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for an action when other people are present. Basically they think someone else will step in, and so they don’t. It’s hard enough for an adult to intervene, but for college youth, there may be additional pressures such as not wanting to draw attention to themselves or not quite knowing what to do.
We could probably all use a little guidance in this area so that one day we might have the confidence to step in and help someone in need. The National Sexual Violence Research Center (NSVRC) lists bystander training courses here: http://www.nsvrc.org/bystander-intervention-campaigns-and-programs.