How to be an Active Bystander


Ah, high school. A time when responsibilities are low, and hormones are high. Young people's bodies are developing. Curiosity about the opposite gender is growing. Many young people are having sex for the first time. When I was in grade twelve, my friends and I often partied at our friend's house, weekend after weekend. Music blasting. Flip cup tournaments. Partying in the pool. Those were the days.

Towards the end of our senior year, there was one guy in our larger circle who was desperate, and vocal about his desire to lose his virginity. Let's call him Joe. Joe even had set a date by which he wanted to "accomplish" this. Let's get one thing straight: sex is a collaboration, not a conquest. 

Joe's "deadline" was approaching, and he did not have any prospects from the pool of girls at our school. Lots of girl friends, no girlfriends. Another party rolled around, this time, attended by some girls from other schools, unaware of Joe's ambitions. Joe, who was sober for medical reasons, spent all night talking to these (very inebriated) girls. The end of the night was drawing near, and as I was walking back from the bathroom to the main party area, I saw Joe dragging a girl toward the bedroom. She was drunk. Wasted, really. And I went over to see if she was okay. She wanted her friends, and she asked him to get off her. Most importantly, she did not want to go with Joe toward the bedroom.

He told me she was okay, and he was taking care of her, and he was just taking her to lie down. Thankfully for her, I understood very quickly what was about to happen. I spoke to a trusted male friend, who ushered in and brought her to her friends. And the story ends there.

He told me she was okay, and he was taking care of her, and he was just taking her to lie down. 

Lauren's Law

But not everyone is so lucky. I recently read a story, so similar to this, with a different ending. shared a story about a girl named Lauren Atkins, who was raped at a high school party, and is now an advocate for education about consent. 'Lauren's Law' was read to the House Education Committee in Oklahoma on Monday, February 26 and passed, following a unanimous vote. This bill will require students to be educated on consent.

Thinking back to high school sex education classes, we were not taught about consent. We were taught about the biology of sex and how to wrap a banana. But we weren't taught about how to ask for consent, how to give clear consent, and why consent matters. Education about consent and respecting boundaries needs to be mandatory in schools.




Bystander Intervention

With the increasingly frequent conversations around rape culture and sexual harassment, we need to take some time to talk about the bystander effect, and how to ensure you are not being complicit with sexual harassment and assault. The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is defined as a psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. This term was popularized following the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964, where she was stabbed to death and several onlookers who observed the crime did not step in to assist or call the police. 

Bystander programs are being introduced on campuses across North America to give students tactics to intervene. This New York Times article outlines some of Jane Stapleton's suggestions, a researcher at University of New Hampshire who runs bystander intervention programs:

  • 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

Get creative with your ideas! One young woman at University of New Hampshire approached a young woman who looked like she was in trouble to offer up "that tampon she asked for".

The key is to stop bad behavior before it crosses the line from drunken partying to sexual assault. When alcohol is involved, lines are blurry, and many people aren't even aware they are crossing them.


Just Ask

In the same way that a major aspect of confirming consent is a simple yes/no question, so is being an active bystander. If you witnessed or heard something that makes you uncomfortable, here are some simple questions and statements to help ensure you're not being complicit:

  • Do you want to leave with him/her?
  • Can I walk you home?
  • Is there anyone I can call for you?
  • Am I the only one who is uncomfortable with that?
  • I don't like what you just said.

I'm saying something because I care about you.

Do you have any creative ideas for bystander intervention? Are you willing to stop a friend from making a bad decision? Leave your comments below!


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