Thursday, June 18, 2009
Bystander Intervention Can Reduce Sexual Assault
You can tell young women how to reduce their risk of being assaulted. And you can tell young men that real men don’t rape. But student sexual assault persists on campus. What more can you do?
Bystander intervention training for both women and men brings changes in attitudes, behaviors and sexual assault levels on campus. Dr. John D. Foubert, associate professor of college student development at Oklahoma State University, described the program and its effects at the 2009 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) meeting in Seattle in March.
Foubert got into sexual violence prevention 16 years ago, focusing on changing men’s behavior. He’s developed new approaches and statistical analyses based on the results. Three years ago he began a women’s program; preliminary results look promising.
“My school of thought is to look at research and do what the research tells us,” he said. This means ignoring our bias and instincts in favor of doing what the research suggests.
One in four women college students have experienced rape or attempted rape. The perpetrators are 98% men, and 9% of college men even admit to doing it.
Early rape prevention programs taught women to limit their risk with self-defense classes, reduced drinking and not going out alone at night. That’s all useful, but it skips the central problem: men who choose to rape. “I’m extremely supportive of the idea that women can’t prevent it,” he said.
Preventing rape has to mean changing the behavior of men. Programs addressed at men began in the 1990s, with varying results. In at least one study, men who’d been in the program reported themselves more likely to rape. In others the men said they were less likely to rape or they had fewer stereotypes of rape, rapists and victims of rape. Few programs gave evidence of creating lasting change.
More success came with recent programs to change the peer culture— teaching men not just to refrain but to encourage their buddies to refrain as well. The programs that work best are aimed at fraternities, which are at the heart of the problem.
Men who join fraternities don’t have different histories of sexual behavior from those who don’t. The differences develop after they join the frat. Greek cultural norms promote sexual coercion and helping each other get laid. They support the myths that condone rape.
* She asked for it.
* Women who say no don’t mean it.
* Women like being roughed up.
* Women secretly want to be raped.
* Women want men to be in charge.
* Liberated women will have sex with anyone.
Alcohol is a factor in most campus rape. Binge drinking makes a woman eight times more likely to be raped. Men attack more often after drinking or using drugs, and the more they drink the more aggressive they’re likely to be. The more they’ve both been drinking, the more men buy into the myths and tell themselves she’s asking for it.
Getting men to change
Foubert’s is the only program that’s been shown in a controlled study to bring a lasting change in men’s attitudes about sexual coercion. It grew out of earlier findings about creating behavioral change. Sixty years of research shows that behavior is most likely to change when people:
* are motivated to hear the message
* understand the message well
* perceive it as personally relevant.
Programs targeting men typically start with the premise that most men are potential rapists. No wonder they’ve failed. Most men don’t consider themselves potential rapists, so they tune out the message. It doesn’t apply to them.
Foubert’s program takes a different tack by addressing men’s positive self-image. Instead of telling them not to rape, it assumes their goodness and frames the topic as how they can help the victim of a sexual assault.
Most men do think they’re potential helpers. The workshop builds on what they already believe. Though supporting rape survivors is something either women or men could do, workshops are single-sex because the data shows that setting is most likely to change behavior.
Workshop presenters show a video of male-on-male rape to build empathy with someone who’s being raped. That choice was based on previous research showing that programs depicting a female victim increased men’s acceptance of the rape myths, while depicting a male victim decreased it.
Presenters go on to say the perpetrators were presumed heterosexual and known to the victim. They address the canard that male-on-male assault is by gays; more often it’s by heterosexual rapists who use it for power and control.
Men in the workshop are guided from identifi cation with the male rape victim to empathy with rape victims who are women. The workshop moves on to how to support rape survivors and the defi nitions of sexual consent.
Then, even better than supporting a rape survivor, the men look for ways to support her in advance by preventing the rape. As the workshop continues, they discuss ways they can respond when they hear jokes about rape or boasts about abusing women.
Guided imagery leads them to the next step. The men visualize a woman close to them, drunk, raped while a bystander watches without intervening. They brainstorm what the bystander could have done.
In a study a few years ago, focus groups of fraternity members seven months after the workshop showed changes in behavior or attitudes that the men attributed to the workshop. Fraternity members who’d taken the workshop were signifi cantly less likely to have engaged in coercive acts than their brothers who had not. The acts they’d committed were less severe; they were less accepting of the rape myths.
Two years after the workshop the changes were still visible: 79% of participants reported changes in attitude or behavior because of the workshop, or else it reinforced what they already believed.
* Alcohol can be dangerous.
* Rape is very serious.
* Rape results in a very real trauma.
* Communication is critical to consent. New behaviors
* You can intervene to keep friends safe.
* Don’t have sex after excessive alcohol.
* Act only after communication and consent.
* Don’t joke about rape.
Several described specific incidents where the workshop experience had affected their behavior with women. One said he’s very cautious about initiating any sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol. Another said the workshop helped him commit to not mixing alcohol and sex.
Several turned down sex with young women who were trying to hook up with them while drunk. Others described telling a young woman that they were both too drunk, even when the behavior might have seemed consensual. One reported, “I turned down sex because the girl was very intoxicated. She thanked me afterward and things progressed how I wanted them to.”
Other comments showed bystander intervention in action:
- “I have helped a girl friend get out of a potentially scary situation.”
- “There was one time when a friend was going to engage in sexual activity with a girl who was really drunk. Me and a couple of other guys intervened because the girl seemed out of it (also, she was another friend’s sister). They ended up not having sex.”
New paradigm for women
If rape prevention training for men has usually operated (unsuccessfully) from the premise that all men are potential rapists, training for women has rested on the premise that all women are potential victims. It may be true but it’s tricky.
From suggesting that women have the power to prevent being raped, it’s a short slippery slope to blaming the victim if she can’t prevent it. “When women blame themselves, they have an increased risk of being raped again,” he said. But it’s even more threatening to feel there’s nothing you can do. It’s disempowering to frame women as helpless victims; many prefer the term “rape survivor.”
Bystander intervention training offers a new paradigm that empowers women to action without blaming the victim. No longer just targets or prey, women can act to help protect their friends and make college safer for all.
Three years ago Foubert started a program for women to parallel the one for men. Like the men’s program, it focuses on helping a friend survive a rape and intervening as a bystander to prevent sexual assault.
Women’s program goals
* Teach women to recognize the signs of high-risk perpetrators.
* Empower women to intervene in potentially risky situations.
* Provide women with skills to help rape survivors. Workshops start with establishing rapport and defining rape. Then the women students watch the video The Undetected Rapist (National Judicial Education Program 2000).
Based on surveys of male college students about specific past behaviors, the video shows that most rapists are neither incarcerated strangers nor nice guys who once drank too much. Most are predatory serial offenders who plot how to get their prey too drunk to resist.
They target the vulnerable. Their rapes are rarely reported. If they are, the rapists claim the sex was consensual. Understanding this may encourage women to resist and report rape attempts.
Recognizing dangerous men comes next on the workshop agenda. A woman who understands the red flags is more likely to escape or defend herself. It also gives her a tool to warn a friend if she sees a likely predator closing in.
Students discuss how to help a friend survive a rape without blaming the victim. They also brainstorm ways to become an active bystander who intervenes to prevent sexual assault.
At the end of the workshop each student makes one commitment for intervention. Committing in advance increases the odds she’ll follow through. Sample: I won’t leave the room when my roommate comes home drunk with a questionable guy.
Of more than 500 women who’ve taken the workshop, 98% would continue offering the program.
Bystander intervention for campus safety
“Bystander intervention techniques can prevent rape, whether we give it to men or women,” Foubert said. Intervention is positive, conveying self-respect and healthy empowerment to both women and men. And it reduces the number of rapes on campus.
They track interventions through a green dot initiative, placing a green dot on a campus map wherever an intervention took place. The word rape isn’t on the map and the initiative is gender neutral.
Sample interventions reported:
* Refuse to leave the room.
* Call the roommate into the hall to talk.
* If dancing at a party, cut in.
* Call the police or the RA.
* Accidentally spill beer to diffuse the situation.
“It’s my understanding that all campuses are doing some sexual assault prevention and if not, they’re in violation of the law,” he said. His data suggests that programs based on positive self-image, peer support for rape survivors and bystander intervention do the most good in the long run. Foubert hopes to license the program to individual schools.
Photo: Dr. John D. Foubert (Dr. John D. Foubert is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the College of William and Mary and is the founder of One in Four. One in Four is a national rape prevention program focusing on male college students.)
What is Men Standing Up?
- Men Standing Up
- Moving to End Sexual Assault's Men's Prevention Education program in Boulder, Colorado is dedicated to raising awareness about rape prevention. Studies show that that men and boys hear a message about ending sexual violence better from other males, making men’s involvement crucial in creating lasting social change.