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Sexual Assault Awareness Month

On April 5, 2017

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC.org) offers the following information and advice.  

One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to a campus sexual assault study discussed on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service website. The majority of these crimes (90 percent) on college campuses are never reported. Several national initiatives are underway, including the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault and the It’s On Us campaign, to change cultural norms and engage the campus community in prevention. 

Consent - Consent is understood as an affirmative agreement to engage in various sexual or non- sexual activities. Consent is an enthusiastic, clearly communicated and ongoing yes. One can’t rely on past sexual interactions, and should never assume consent. The absence of “no” is not a “yes.” When sex is consensual, it means everyone involved has agreed to what they are doing and has given their permission. Non-consensual sex is rape. A person who is substantially impaired cannot give consent. 

What is an engaged bystander? - An engaged bystander is someone who intervenes before, during or after a situation when they see or hear behaviors that promote sexual violence. It is common for people to witness situations where someone makes an inappropriate sexual comment or innuendo, tells a rape joke or touches someone in a sexual manner. 

Bystanders might also witness other forms of sexual violence. Bystanders can intervene in a way that will help create a safer environment. 

Research has shown that bystander programs can produce positive results by increasing participants’ knowledge of sexual violence, decreasing participants’ acceptance of rape myths and increasing intervention. 

Engaged bystanders help create healthy communities and help others build safe and respectful environments by discouraging victim blaming, changing social norms that accept sexual violence and shifting the responsibility to prevent sexual violence to all community members.

When and how to    intervene - Every situation is different and there is no universal response when intervening to prevent sexual violence. Safety is key in deciding when and how to respond to sexual violence. Every person must decide for themselves the safest and most meaningful way to become an engaged bystander. Some ideas on how to maintain safety while being an engaged bystander: 

• If you witness sexual violence, get support from people around you. You do not have to act alone. If you do not feel safe, contact the police. 

• Practice with friends and family about what you would say and how you would say it. 

• When intervening, be respectful, direct and honest. 

• Contact your local sexual assault center to see if they offer resources or trainings. • Download a free copy of NSVRC’s Engaging Bystanders to Prevent Sexual Violence Information Packet: http://tinyurl.com/n92ze24. 

When Alcohol is Involved - Unfortunately, bystanders are less likely to intervene when alcohol is involved, particularly when both the victim and offender have been drinking. 

However, alcohol is never a cause of rape or an excuse for committing a crime; consent cannot be obtained when someone is incapacitated due to alcohol or other substances. 

Role of Social Media - During and after acts of sexual violence, social media and online anonymous spaces could provide venues for harmful comments and abusive behavior toward others. This might include threatening to distribute photos or videos of the assault. Responsible bystanders play a powerful role in showing support for survivors, challenging disrespectful comments, and changing the culture to end violence. 

Checklist for bystanders - Is there a problem? Does someone need help? Is it safe to intervene? What are my options? What should I do? Should I call on others to help? 

Bystander intervention examples - At work: Someone overhears a female supervisor say that she wishes her boyfriend had a butt like one of her male employees. An engaged bystander could talk with the supervisor directly or report the incident based on the workplace’s sexual harassment policy. 

Online: There are comments posted in regard to a story about a sexual assault that imply that the victim deserved to get raped because of how they were dressed and how much they had to drink. An engaged bystander could respond to the comments by posting that it is never the survivor’s fault if he or she is sexually assaulted and that the responsibility lies with the person who chose to commit sexual violence. 

At a party: A friend starts flirting with someone. The other person is not interested but the friend will not leave them alone. An engaged bystander could approach the friend and start a conversation to distract them from the uninterested person. 

At school: A group starts making sexual gestures and comments to another student. An engaged bystander could tell the group to stop harassing the student, or ask the student if they want to leave and tell a teacher or principal.

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