In 2011, the University of Windsor launched its innovative and unique Bystander Initiative. Our goal is to reduce the incidence of sexual violence by increasing the campus community’s willingness and readiness to speak out against predatory behaviour and step up to prevent sexual assaults before they happen.
Sexual assault occurs all too frequently on university and college campuses across Canada and the U.S. Most at risk are first and second year students; overall, as many as 1 in 4 women experiences rape or attempted rape before she graduates. The vast majority of those who commit this crime are men, and over 90% are known to the victim. Men are also sexually assaulted, but in much lower numbers and the perpetrators are likely to be men.
Research suggests that most men are not sexually violent and would never harm a woman. Those who commit rape constitute a fairly small proportion of male students: an estimated 1 in 10. However, many more are aware of other men’s aggressive behaviour toward women, but don’t speak up because they don’t know what they can do about it.
Key to the success of the UWindsor Bystander Initiative is the provision of sexual assault prevention workshops for students. We chose Bringing in the Bystander®, developed at the University of New Hampshire, which emphasizes the importance of men and women working together. Its central message is that everyone is a potential bystander with the ability to take action to prevent assault. Workshop participants learn why it’s important to speak out against sexually aggressive language or behaviour, how to intervene in situations that could lead to sexual assault, and ways to support a survivor of assault.
The effectiveness of BITB® for both men and women has been established on other campuses and at the University of Windsor. Students who participate in the workshop are more willing to take action to prevent sexual assault from happening and are better prepared to do so. Embedding these workshops in undergraduate courses and the first-year Law curriculum has made it possible to involve hundreds of students. This year, 1300+ students have the opportunity to join a workshop.