Don’t Be a Sexual Assault Bystander

Six women have filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, his brother, and board members of Miramax and the Weinstein Company for participating in a conspiracy to conceal Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults and incessant harassment. In a statement, the women are quoted as saying “Soon after the Weinstein story broke, the world learned that individuals, companies and an entire industry knew about the pattern of abuse we suffered, but covered it up and turned a blind eye.” Many people in his circle enabled the assaults and covered up for him. These six women are angry with bystanders who did not intervene.

This is reminiscent of the 1964 rape and murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese in New York. Not a single person, out of 38, who heard or saw her being attacked took action to help.

In a different case, two bystanders intervened to stop the sexual assault and potential rape of an unconscious woman by Brock Turner. On January 18th, 2015, two Swedish graduate students were cycling around Stanford’s campus late at night when they saw Brock Turner in a dark area behind a dumpster. Brock was on top of a woman who appeared to be unconscious. The men confronted him, chased him down and detained him until campus police were able to arrive. When they came on the scene, the police determined that the woman in question was completely unconscious.

So what’s the difference? Why do some people intervene to stop improper or illegal behavior, while others do nothing, and therefore perpetuate the behavior?

Factors in which an individual intervenes include the “bystander effect.” The presence of other people actually prevents someone from intervening to help in an emergency. The greater the number of bystanders present, the less likely it is that a single bystander will intervene to help. They feel less personal responsibility to take action, believing that surely other people have already done so.

We are more likely to intervene when the victim is someone we know. Variables of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental health, disability, social class, immigration status, and homelessness influence our chances of interrupting an assault. We act differently when we perceive the victim as a member of our in group versus an outsider.

Since Kitty Genovese’s death in 1964, there have been studies on prevention of sexual assault. Initial programs focused on sexual violence prevention such as risk reduction for potential victims, such as strategies to reduce the chances of an assault. Secondly, programs focused on targeting potential perpetrators by changing attitudes to prevent people from assaulting victims. More recently the field has shifted from targeting victims and perpetrators to focus on bystanders. Potential bystanders or witnesses can be empowered to interrupt sexual assaults and provide support to survivors.

Many colleges provide Bystander Intervention & Sexual Assault Prevention Training. The 3 D’s of bystander interventions are 1. Direct – Directly intervening, in the moment, to prevent a problem situation from happening; 2. Delegate – Seeking help from another individual, often someone who is authorized to represent others, such as a police officer or campus official; and 3. Distract – Interrupting the situation without directly confronting the offender.

Rules for Bystander Intervention: Do not put yourself at risk; Do not make the situation worse; Intervene at the earliest point possible; Look for early warning signs of trouble; and Intervening does not necessarily mean confronting; Ask for help!

Don’t be a bystander, take action.



One thought on “Don’t Be a Sexual Assault Bystander

  1. I just want you to know that I’ve been having bad luck in sending you messages, unless they are responses to messages you’ve sent me. This all started when I got a message that appeared have been sent by you about a comment I’d made April 27 that I don’t recall. Liz says your message came from your blog handler, which I know nothing about. The message concerned an article you’d written about bosses who might ask you to do something against your principles. It required an answer, and I dutifully wrote a brief one that ended up with my conclusion that I’d found the best solution for both myself and boss was for me to move to greener pastures. I couldn’t figure out how to send it back to you, showed it to Liz, she examined it, told me I didn’t understand the article, we argued about it. Next morning I wanted to try to print it so I could take it Tuesday, but Liz had deleted it. I can’t see how it could have been that important, but she’s been kind of off-kilter lately.

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