A recurring column exploring various statistics related to sexual wellness, mental health, and substance use at Colorado College, brought to you by the Wellness Resource Center.
91 percent of the CC students who reported that they had experienced sexual assault with bystanders present during the incident, said that those bystanders did not intervene.
Though the sample size on this particular survey question is small — only 45 responses were collected — it is representative of a phenomenon that has long characterized and perpetuated rape culture: the “bystander effect.” The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. Because each individual is merely part of the crowd, no single person feels responsible for taking direct action.
In essence, to be a bystander is to remain passive. While one cause of this passivity is the diffusion of responsibility, another is the social norms that discourage individuals from acting against the grain. When other observers fail to react, passivity becomes the socially respectable response and to intervene would be to deviate from the norm. Here lies the issue: an environment that fails to actively question situations that appear dangerous is an environment that permits them.
College campuses at large are at high risk for becoming such environments, as students unknowingly exhibit the bystander effect in everyday situations, whether at a party or in the classroom. CC is not immune. These statistics illustrate the ways in which inactivity creates, and subsequently becomes, a “norm” that permits sexual violence.
This is not to erase the efforts made by students who decide to engage. Twelve percent of students who reported that they themselves had not experienced sexual assault did report having witnessed a situation they believed to be assault. Of this 12 percent, 68 percent said they had intervened. While recognizing that this number must continue to grow, and cannot be fully celebrated until it reaches totality, 68 percent carries promise. CC is an environment that we as students have the power to change.
One way to increase intervention is to increase understanding of when it is appropriate to intervene. Intervention is not only required when a drunk college student is being led home by another, against their will. Taking action against less extreme violence, like disrespectful or abusive behavior, and homophobic, racist, or sexist language can ultimately prevent assaults.
This campus offers multiple resources for students to inform and empower themselves. Action is only effective once we become aware of the issues, recognize them, and learn how to respond appropriately. The Wellness Resource Center and other campus offices such as The Butler Center offer trainings and workshops that teach the skills necessary to become an active bystander or, in CC terminology, a BADASS (Be Aware, Decide to Act, Say Something). The next training will be held by the Wellness Resource Center on Sept. 27, at 5 p.m. in McHugh Commons.
It’s time to create a new norm.