Bystander Intervention Training on College Campuses
University campuses around the world often implement these programs towards the beginning of the school year in an effort to educate students, particularly incoming students, about the importance of speaking up and stepping in when witnessing others in potentially vulnerable and exploitative situations.
Organization: A list of Canadian universities that offer bystander intervention training programs:
*Please note that this is NOT a comprehensive list of universities offering the program, but contains a list of the universities whose names came up most frequently in the literature and research; these programs also operate outside of Canada, but for the purposes of clarity and specificity, this submission will focus specifically on Canadian college campuses
- University of Victoria (Victoria, BC)
- Carleton University (Ottawa, ON)
- Queen’s University (Kingston, ON)
- University of Western Ontario (London, ON)
- University of Windsor (Windsor, ON)
- University of Guelph-Humber (Guelph, ON)
- Ryerson University (Toronto, ON)
- Concordia University (Montreal, QC)
About the Wise Practice
The increased campaigning and widespread awareness of sexual violence against women that arose out of the #MeToo campaign spearheaded by Tarana Burke as early as 2006 was accompanied by increased awareness of instances of sexual assault and harassment specifically on university campuses. Sexual violence amongst college cohorts, specifically perpetrated against women (particularly queer, women of colour, disabled, and international students) has been happening for decades. However, as public attention grew, college administrators felt the pressure to take action in lowering and in ultimately eradicating the rates of sexual violence on campuses.
Bystander intervention training was one program that was developed to offer tangible actions other students can take to help their peers and prevent instances of sexual assault. According to Psychology Today, “The best-known model of bystander intervention is the situational model created by Latane and Darley (1970). The five-step model suggests that the decision to intervene is complex: bystanders must first notice the event, interpret it as an emergency, take responsibility for acting, decide how to act, and choose to act.”
These training programs for the bystanders are often offered at the beginning of the semester (when rates of sexual assault are the highest, leading to what is known as the “Red Zone”) but are offered to students throughout the school year. In such training programs, issues such as mutual consent and the idea of healthy relationships are also addressed. The University of Guelph-Humber has one of the most well-known programs among Canadian campuses. Its learning outcomes are described below:
Participants will be able to…
- Define sexual violence, rape culture, and sexual consent
- Describe at least two bystander intervention strategies they would use
- Articulate at least two factors that influence their decision to intervene or not intervene
- Develop empathy for survivors of sexual violence
These programs empower students to safely intervene when witnessing a fellow student in a situation of potential danger.
Goal 1: Prevent and eliminate all forms of violence and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation (NUA 13c, 39; SDG 5.2; CEDAW article 6).
Programs including “Bringing in the Bystander” which was initially developed by the Prevention Innovations Research Center have been implemented at over 500 institutions in 6 countries: Canada, the United States, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Sessions typically run for 100 minutes each by co-ed teams of 2. According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, two colleges in the United States without a bystander intervention training program had 17% more incidents of sexual violence compared to a campus that had an intervention training program. According to internal reports, the program is effective when presented to audiences of different genders. One of the remarkable outcomes of this program is the increase in confidence levels and self-efficacy students gain regarding intervening in unsafe situations.
Statistics Canada frequently publishes reports of sexual violence on college campuses, along with other university-centered media outlets including Macleans. Bringing in the Bystander mentioned on their website that research has shown their program to consistently increase student awareness regarding sexual violence and strengthen the students’ intervention in the context of sexual violence on campus. By conducting pre-program and post-program testing at universities of all sizes (rural, urban, commuter, and residential) it was evident that this program was advantageous for students of all backgrounds.
Because it has been widely reported that the first 8 weeks of the school year are often the most dangerous for potential victims of sexual violence, these programs must run from the very beginning of the school year. It is important to make sure that this program reaches the maximum number of students to raise awareness about how to support the targets of violence. It has been repeatedly found that bystander intervention programs are effective in alerting students about the necessary and appropriate steps to be taken in helping someone in a dangerous situation.
Resources and More Information
Published: May 31, 2021