Empowering Student Bystanders
The UWindsor Bystander Initiative (BI) is a comprehensive, campus-wide approach to sexual violence prevention. Our approach is unique in Canada, and the BI continues to be recognised for leadership in this field.
The BI is designed to produce a series of small but persistent changes in students’ thinking and behaviour. Over time, our goal is to shift the campus climate, to build a community that looks out for each other and does not tolerate sexual violence. We do this by training students to speak up against rape myths, support victim-survivors and to safely intervene to stop sexual assault before it happens. Everyone can be part of this effort!
Sexual assault is a serious social problem on university and college campuses across North America. Studies consistently tell us that the most at risk are first- and second-year students, and as many as 1 in 4 women will experience sexual assault before graduation. Recent research shows high rates of sexual assault against members of LGBTQ+ groups and international students. Men generally report sexual assault in lower numbers, and those who come forward deserve to be believed and supported. In most cases, perpetrators are likely to be men. Many of these encounters are not reported and do not appear in official statistics.
Confronting the reality of sexual assault can be complicated because of common, widely believed myths about the issue. The root problem is not a violent stranger lurking in scary dark areas like alleys or parking lots. Most women are assaulted by men they know — friends or friends of friends. The most likely circumstances are social events – parties, dating, and pub nights – and most common locations are the home or dorm room of the perpetrator or victim or their friends and families.
Sexual violence may be common and widespread, but we have reason for hope. Most men are not sexually violent and do not want to hurt women. Those who commit rape are a small proportion of male students: an estimated 1 in 10. However, many people in their social circles are aware of their aggressive attitudes and behaviour, but don’t speak up because they don’t know what to do or whether it would be effective. Our social context does not encourage challenging what we call “rape-supportive attitudes.”
The UWindsor BI is working to change this reality.
We offer a 3-hour sexual assault prevention workshops and two undergraduate courses to educate and train BI workshop leaders. This year we will offer 70+ sexual assault prevention workshops to over 1600 students and qualify 50 new workshop leaders. Starting in Fall 2018, all year 1 students who complete the workshop will be given a $50 gift card for the University Bookstore and a Certificate of Completion that students can add to their resumé. The University also offers care and support for students who have experienced sexual assault or attempted assault.
Students who take the BI workshop and courses learn why it is important to speak out against comments and behaviours that normalize violence against women, how to identify situations that commonly lead to sexual assault, and what to do to help a friend or stranger in need.
These tools can make a difference if practised widely and consistently. Our goal is to train 10-15% of the student body each year. Acting together, these students will constitute the “tipping point” needed to change campus attitudes and behaviours.