Review of Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention by Tanya Singleton
Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention is an information and education tool written and designed by Joan Tabachnick. This work was supported in part by funds from the CDC. Tabachnick (2008) discusses several factors involved in the concept of the ‘bystander approach”, which is a training designed to encourage bystanders to act responsibly rather than witnessing assaults and not providing help. She examines factors that contribute to bystander apathy, which include beliefs such as: it’s not my problem, job, or responsibility, I don’t feel safe, I don’t know what to do, and the like. Factors found in those who are most likely to help a victim include the thought processes that the person involved is someone they care about, they recall a time in which they were helped, they were doing what they hoped someone would do for them in a similar situation, they never thought twice, they just reacted, or they wanted to make sure no one got hurt.
The greater agent of change requires a social marketing approach, which addresses the community at large rather than individuals. Mandatory reporting laws have caused reports of sexual abuse to increase dramatically since their inception in the early 1980’s. In California, a bill was passed in 1999 that makes it illegal to witness a crime against a child under 14 and not report it. Tabachnick (2008) suggests that “programs that shift social norms, develop institutional policies, and create legislative initiatives will support individual behavioral change by transforming the forces surrounding the individual. Our rapidly changing technology may also make it easier for people to reach out for help or offer assistance” (p. 19) such as text-messaging and cell phone usage.
Tabachnick (2008) discusses the importance of teaching people to view sexual behavior on a continuum. At each step, positive behaviors can be enforced and negative behaviors recognized and interventions performed prior to the escalation to violence. The spectrum begins positively, observing and commenting on behaviors that are healthy, age appropriate, mutually respectful and safe; moving to mutually flirtatious and playful; then moving to age-inappropriate or non-mutual; followed by harassment, and ending with escalation to sexually abusive and violent. “Each situation is an opportunity to intervene by reinforcing behaviors BEFORE a behavior moves further towards sexual violence” (Tabachnick, 2008. p 10).
Darley and Latane (1968) developed five steps toward taking action after their study on bystander apathy in the aftermath of the brutal rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964, witnessed by many and reported by none. These steps are: (1) Notice the event along a continuum of actions; (2) consider whether the situation demands your action; (3) Decide if you have a responsibility to act; (4) Choose what form of assistance to use; and (5) Understand how to implement the choice safely (p. 40).
Missing opportunities to assist someone in need have most likely haunted each of us. Many times we are torn between acting responsibly out of our consciousness or turning our backs out of cowardice and fear. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. We should take back our communities, our individual strength, sense of responsibility, and open our eyes to the crimes that take place right under our noses. Let our voices be heard, for those whose voices may be weak, or even silenced by the oppression of abuse.