Here's Why 'Bystander Training' May Be The Key To Preventing Campus Sexual Assaults

President Barack Obama It's On Us Sexual AssaultREUTERS/Larry DowningPresident Obama launched the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign to help prevent sexual assault on school campuses.

In the past few weeks, several large-scale college sexual assault prevention initiatives have launched, focusing on “bystander intervention” — which might be campuses’ best bet towards creating a safe environment for students.

Bystander intervention trains students to identify and intervene in potentially harmful situations. For example, bystander training teaches students to interject themselves if they see a clearly incapacitated friend being led off into a sexual situation they would likely have no control over.

A New York Times article from earlier this year breaks down some of the methods students can use to prevent sexual assault:

Jane Stapleton, a University of New Hampshire researcher who runs bystander intervention programs at colleges around the country and in Europe, tells students they will need to be creative about outmaneuvering aggressors. Among the diversions she discusses: suddenly turning on the lights at a party or turning off the music; accidentally spilling a drink on the guy; forming a conga line and pulling him away from the woman he’s bothering and onto the dance floor. One of her favourites came from a young woman who approached her drunken girlfriend and said, loudly, “Here’s the tampon you asked for.”

As The Times reports, “The goal is to stop bad behaviour before it crosses the line from drunken partying to sexual assault … In the best of circumstances, a drunken aggressor won’t realise he’s been had.”

Now, many initiatives to combat sexual assault are latching on to this training method. One such program — from the White House — is “It’s On Us,” which uses celebrities and social media to help spread a message of shared responsibility on college campuses.

“It seeks to reframe the conversation surrounding sexual assault in a way that inspires everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it,” according to a White House press release.

Here’s the star studded “It’s On Us” video:

Additionally, a recently launched program from several national college fraternities called the Fraternal Health and Safety Initiative will focus on bystander training. “The focus [of FHSI] is on learning to recognise, diagnose and intervene in potentially harmful situations,” The Associate Press reports.

According to The AP, around 35,000 undergraduates will participate in the first year of the FHSI training program.

While there is not much data published on the relative effectiveness of these programs, preliminary studies seem promising. According to Vox, “A study of Bringing In the Bystander, a program at the University of New Hampshire, found that two months after the training, students were less likely to believe in rape myths, more likely to say they would intervene to stop a sexual assault, and more likely to say that they actually had intervened.”

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