Bystander intervention is not enough

Bystander intervention is not enough

CW / Kylie Cowden

Recently, there has been much discussion on campus and much written in the Crimson White regarding sexual assault. Much of this discussion has included warranted criticisms of the administration and the SGA’s lack of tangible action regarding the issue. 

Though representatives from the SGA claimed that they would continue to build upon the momentum created with last year’s “It’s On Us” campaign, very little has changed in campus attitudes towards sexual assault since the movement’s beginnings. 

The on us does not solely lay with the SGA, who have task forces ready to combat sexual assault should the executive branch choose to prioritize an initiative. Rather, the lack of results in changing campus attitude demands an examination of the efficacy of a nationwide initiative like “It’s On Us” that is focused almost completely on bystander intervention.

Bystander intervention training tells people to step in if they see someone being sexually aggressive, taking advantage of a drunk person, or any of the other warning signs regarding sexual assault. 

The University is not by any means the only institution pushing the bystander intervention narrative; It’s On Us, after all, is a national movement with very public figureheads like Vice President Joe Biden encouraging us to say something if we see something. 

Though this method of sexual assault prevention is both admirable and necessary in many cases, it promotes a dangerous “othering” of sexual assault that removes us as individuals from being contributors to rape culture and promotes very little personal accountability. Its only focus is on how we should react to seeing others potentially perpetrating sexual assault — and never how we should react if we see the warning signs in ourselves. 

It is, of course, human nature to remove ourselves from horrific acts like rape and view it as something that we could never be capable of. This line of logic begs the question, though, that if none of us are committing sexual assault, how do one in five college women and one in sixteen college men end up becoming victims? 

We like to think that rapists are only violent sociopaths, but the truth is, true sociopaths are an extremely small percentage of the population, and most perpetrators are normal people whose upbringing have been so deeply engrained in rape culture that they fail to recognize when consent is not being given.

That is why all of us, regardless of gender, need to stop viewing sexual assault as a problem completely outside of ourselves and start examining our own capabilities for sexual assault and un-learning the rape culture that we were all brought up in. If we continue to “other” the problem, we fail to change the one thing we are most capable of affecting — our own actions. 

This process begins with analyzing and shifting our attitudes towards consent. We often hear and might even preach that it doesn’t matter what she was wearing, or how much they were drinking, but do we actually believe it? Do we make jokes or comments that continue this sort of destructive victim-blaming? This self-evaluation and self-critique needs to be followed by concrete self-monitoring. 

We need to begin recognizing when we are or the person we are engaged with is too drunk to understand or give consent. We need to begin asking for consent at every progression of sexual intimacy, regardless of if you have had sex before. There are so many steps we can all engage in to ensure that we ourselves are actively resisting a society that promotes rape culture, and not just waiting to step in when we see someone else giving in. 

Yes, at the end of the day, it is on us to end sexual assault — but not just by monitoring the actions of other. It’s on us to look within ourselves and change our own beliefs and actions if we ever want to see sexual assault completely eradicated.

Marissa Cornelius is a junior majoring in secondary education. Her column runs biweekly.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Crimson White.