Politics & News
This Is Why Every College Is Talking About Bystander Intervention

By Tyler Kingkade

When it comes to one of the nation’s most widely-used college sexual assault prevention programs, Greg Liautaud lives its teachings, literally.

A junior at Connecticut College, Liautaud and sophomore Matt Gaetz have made themselves the resident Green Dot counselors in their campus apartment building, unofficially training their neighbors how to step in whenever they witness situations that could lead to assault.

Green Dot is one of the bystander intervention programs that hundreds of colleges across the country are using to combat sexual violence. If people spot a guy at a party who may be bothering or taking advantage of someone, the thinking goes, they can interrupt the situation and then stop the potential assailant’s momentum — preventing a sexual assault from happening. No one even needs to utter the word “rape.”

“You step in like that and it kind of just ends the situation,” Liautaud explained. “It’s not really about calling someone a bad person, it’s just defusing the situation.”

That’s the appeal of bystander intervention programs like Green Dot, experts say. Rather than treating everyone as a potential rapist or rape victim, students are treated like allies who are empowered to step in. And according to research, it’s working: For example, John Foubert, who received a grant from the Department of Education to study the impact of bystander intervention, found in 2007 that fraternity men who were trained in bystander intervention were 40 percent less likely to commit sexual violence.

Liautaud and Gaetz, who both play on their school’s men’s hockey team, say Green Dot training has become standard for them and their teammates. No one is formally required to go through the training, but with so much buy-in on the team and around campus, the athletes do it anyway. The team’s fifth annual Green Dot-themed hockey game on Saturday drew the largest crowd of the season, with 500 attendees — more than double the typical amount.

After five years, Green Dot is as much a part of life for the hockey team as practice. “Even new players are coming into a culture that’s set in stone,” Gaetz said. “It’s almost better that they embrace it on their own.”

When The Status Quo Isn’t Working

For decades, two messages were used to stop campus rape. For women, that meant being warned to carry mace and travel in groups to avoid being assaulted. Men were told what the law was so they wouldn’t get in trouble. In short, you were either a potential victim or a perpetrator, and it didn’t work.

Rates of sexual violence on college campuses have remained steady since the 1980s. Today, many activists and experts in the prevention field think “No means no” lectures are a waste of time and energy.

“The guys will say, ‘Well, I’m not going to perpetrate, and my job is done,'” said Jessy Lyons, associate director at Green Dot. “Talking to women as potential victims of violence has not had any more success.”

As colleges nationwide come under heightened scrutiny for how they address sexual assault, bystander intervention has emerged as a favorite strategy for preventing rape on campus. It’s noncontroversial, gender-neutral and provides hope that students can prevent other people from engaging in bad behavior. And perhaps just as importantly, the White House is heavily promoting it.

Bystander intervention serves as the basis for the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign, which teaches people how to identify a scenario that could lead to sexual violence so they can stop to it.

“It’s On Us” gave a big bump to bystander intervention in 2014, but Vice President Joe Biden actually began promoting the program in 2011. The latest reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act also included a mandate for more rape prevention programming for college students and staff, giving schools another reason to adopt bystander intervention.

Lyons believes it’s more effective than “No means no” lectures. “Now we’re talking to all of you as allies to the solution,” she said.

Tom Conlin, a senior on the Connecticut College hockey team, describes learning about three strategies in Green Dot: using a distraction to pause the situation, delegating intervention to someone else, or directly intervening in a situation.

Conlin considers himself a “distracter,” and so does Liautaud. “That’s pretty much everyone’s go-to — it’s kind of the easiest,” Liautaud said, describing how he might distract someone by inviting them to join him for french fries, mozzarella sticks or some sort of other greasy food to prevent a situation from escalating into sexual assault.

The Groups Behind Bystander Intervention

Green Dot, developed at the University of Kentucky, is one of the two largest nonprofits deploying anti-rape bystander intervention programs on college campuses. The other is Bringing in the Bystander, created at the University of New Hampshire. Staff for both programs typically teach campus facilitators how to lead bystander intervention workshops that can last between one to six hours.

“We don’t tell them you have to use the program as it is off the shelf,” said Sharyn Potter, co-director of UNH’s Prevention Innovations Research Center. “We want them to use examples that are campus-specific.” That means using slang like “wicked” in Boston, or referring to specific party spots on a particular campus.

Close to 300 colleges have implemented Green Dot training in the past few years. Bringing in the Bystander is being used at more than 400 schools in 43 states as well as the U.S. military, and is going international.

More than 440 colleges and universities are also using Step Up!, a bystander intervention program created by the University of Arizona that focuses on other challenges on campus, like depression and excess drinking, as well as sexual assault.

Some schools have started their own bystander intervention programs as well. The University of North Carolina’s program is called One Act. The Claremont Colleges consortium has developed an abridged version of Green Dot called Teal Dot. Many student leaders were required to attend one of Teal Dot’s three-hour training sessions in September 2015, and …read more

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