The Consent Workshop The Bystander Approach
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Society does not do a great job at condemning sexual assault publicly. This is especially in moments where we are not directly affected. We know it should not be happening, but we are slower to respond when it does not happen to us, a friend or a family member. We should not be waiting to be directly affected by tools of the patriarchy, to understand that the urgent need for it to be dismantled. Jackson Katz describes a Bystander as anyone who is not involved in the dyad of abuse but is embedded in peer culture relationships with people who might be in that situation. The general idea with this approach would be a shift in the normalized responsibility of victims to avoid dangerous situations, to pretty much anyone who can intervene .

In simpler words, We are all Bystanders.

The Bystander could witness abuse, hear of abuse or read about abuse. Katz proposes a world where we are all active bystanders in that we advocate for justice regardless of the level of involvement in a given situation.

Everyone knows someone who has been sexually assaulted. Maybe we don’t know them personally, maybe we have heard of a friend of a friend, who is almost always a girl, that has been assaulted. We are all aware (for the most part I like to think) that sexual assault and violence is wrong. The bystander approach rejects the idea that victims of sexual violence and harassment have the sole responsibility to protect themselves. It should not be the same set of people decrying sexual violence all the time. It needs to be all of us.

We at The Consent Workshop have identified 3 things that should ensure that you are an active Bystander.

  • Be direct in your approach. Maybe you are in a gathering of friends and the conversations start to shift towards women. You start to notice that some of your male friends are misogynistic going by the things they say about women. It is not enough to stay silent as some sort of proof that you don’t agree. Your silence in itself is being complicit. It is also not enough to condemn it later when they leave, you need to do it in the moment. This goes for any other situation where intervention might be required. Trust your gut and do it in the moment.
  • Focus on the victim. Your main goal is not to be a hero, but to ensure that you have successfully stopped the possibility of assault. Think carefully about the actions you are about to take, To what degree do they alleviate the worries of the person you are trying to help? You notice a lady being bothered by a man at a bar, is your best course of action pretending you’re her friend she’s been waiting on, or is it speaking out to ensure he knows that his actions are condemned in normal society? You need to assess what works best in any given situation and if you are ever unsure, a simple ‘is he bothering you?’ could never go wrong.
  • Stay safe. While being an active bystander is essential, it is important to assess your own level of safety in any given situation. We need to be able to recognise that some people have more privilege to be active bystanders i.e Men who are bystanders in situations where the perpetrator is a man, or even those who are comfortable with speaking up in public places. This privilege in itself is a powerful tool in speaking out. We also need to know that we can be active bystanders in different capacities. While it might resolve the issue at hand you should not be doing so while risking your personal safety. If you must, please make efforts to ensure that you are safe, in the event of a retaliation.

Being an active bystander includes anything from ensuring that a drunk person at a party gets home safely, to not tolerating rape jokes. The bystander approach is beyond intervening in potentially violent situations, it is a constant contribution to dismantling the culture that makes sexual violence acceptable thus creating a safe environment.

The Consent Workshop.

Photograph by Brandon S / Flickr

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