Sac State discusses assault bystander prevention

Johanna Pugh

It is easy to speak in hypotheticals. It is one thing for people to say if faced with a potential situation, they would react a certain way; and it is another entirely to live it.

It is also another to arm people with skills and the mindset that what people choose to do in reality can have a major impact on others.

Jessica Heskin, victims’ advocate from the Student Health Counseling Services in The Well, believes bystander intervention is an effective form of preventing sexual assault.

“The responsibility for sexual assault lies with the person who is the sexual predator,” Heskin said. “I think a good strategy is to teach bystander intervention skills to everyone so that if they see something that looks like it could be a potential sexual assault situation they can intervene.”

When asked if whether or not they would intervene if witnessing harassment or sexual assault, some students said they would.

“It’s more effective to get someone to stop messing with you if a stranger calls them out,” said Ashley Tatmon, 21, a theater major.

Bystander intervention, which includes aiding a victim either by directly assisting them or “detour intervening” by calling the authorities, is not something everyone readily partakes in.

Bystander apathy is a social psychological phenomenon studied since 1968 following the murder of a woman named Kitty Genovese in New York in 1964.

The 28-year-old Genovese was raped then stabbed to death outside of her apartment and although her neighbors and passersby — originally reported by The New York Times as being 37 people — witnessed or heard what happened, no one got involved nor notified the police until after the incident occurred.

“People are too afraid to stand up for what’s right and would rather mind themselves,” said Onell Berrios, 22, a communication studies major. “Since it has nothing to do with them and they’re not the ones needing help, they don’t see it as their problem.”

Students said this hesitancy is telling of society’s attitudes toward getting involved in matters outside of themselves.

“We’re more concerned about things that directly affect us,” Tatmon said. “We live in a very selfish society and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Now, that’s not to say it can’t or that a society where people stick up for strangers doesn’t exist. I believe both are achievable and do exist.”

Heskin challenges the notion of being uninvolved by advocating for education on bystander intervention practices and preventing sexual assault by urging students to stick together.

“I would advise the basics in regard to safety—watch out for each other at parties, walk together to cars, believe your friends if they tell you someone is creeping them out, believe yourself when someone creeps you out and get out of the situation,” Heskin said. “Trusting your gut instincts is powerful, and often times we don’t respect that enough.”

Bystander intervention is an educational movement that has gained momentum in recent years.

Kat Monusky, prevention specialist for the Prevention Resource Center in Washington, writes for “Partners in Social Change”, a bi-annual publication of information and resources for the primary prevention of sexual violence with a special emphasis on social change.

“Every person has the ability to be an active and responsible bystander; it’s our job to give people tools to make this more feasible,” Monusky said. “These bystanders can intervene during the earliest signs of possible sexual violence and may prevent the violence from occurring. The bystander approach draws people into conversations about creating a safer, healthier, and more equitable community, thus avoiding the pitfalls of focusing on rape myths and victim blaming.”

Heskin said resources on sexual assault, prevention and victim counseling is available at Sacramento State’s recently launched “We Care. We Will Help.” website.

“Sexual assault is a societal issue. It is not an individual issue,” Heskin said. “We all are responsible for eradicating violence in our culture.”

Some students said the change in how the issue of sexual assault is viewed and approached begins with more awareness, education and proactive and supportive behavior.

“The best way I can think of is that the people who do get involved can continue to do so and encourage others to as well. I would 100 percent get involved if I saw [harassment] happening because it’s the right thing to do,” Tatmon said. “If I was in that situation I would want someone to help me. Yes, there is probably a risk in doing so, but being able to stand up and say that isn’t right and doing something about it is what makes us human.”