FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (April 28, 2011) -- April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month throughout the DoD community and the nation as a whole. Some anti-sexual violence efforts focus on stopping victimization through risk reduction while other efforts focus on stopping perpetration.

Both approaches share common goals: to create a safe community and to hold the perpetrator responsible for his or her crime.

Sexual assault is a crime. In both of the above efforts, work often takes place after someone has been harmed. However, bystander intervention broadens the work.
By addressing the behavior of others - friends, co-workers, families, chaplains and witnesses that surround any act or pattern of harassment or abuse - bystanders have the opportunity to take action before sexual violence is committed.

The bystander approach offers opportunities to build a military community and lead a society that does not allow sexual harassment and assault. It gives everyone a role in preventing our community's problem of sexual violence.

But what - or rather who - are bystanders'

The term "bystander" conjures up many, and sometimes conflicting, images. For some, the word connotes a passiveness, an innocent bystander who could not, or did not, do anything in a dangerous situation. For others, the term means engagement, such as someone who witnesses a car crash and calls for help or someone who "stands by" as a friend is being harassed.

The reality is that everyone is a bystander in one way or another to a range of events that contribute to sexual violence. Every day, we witness situations in which someone makes an inappropriate sexual comment or tells a sexually inappropriate "joke." Sometimes we say something or do something; other times, we choose to ignore the situation.

Anyone who lives in today's society is impacted by the sexual violence surrounding us. Stories about it are found in the mainstream media, the news, on talk shows, and in the memoirs of famous people.

We cannot underestimate the power of our community's attitudes and actions to affect individual actions. Think for a moment of the impact that Mothers Against Drunk Drinking (MADD) has had on our DUI laws and our attitudes about driving drunk in general.

Many incidents of sexual violence - from the inappropriate comment at a party to sexual abuse and rape - involve others. In other words, it goes beyond the victim and the perpetrator.

Bystanders represent a web of people surrounding a progression of inappropriate behaviors, harassment or violence, including those who make a choice to speak up or intervene in some way and those who do not.

Bystanders can have a powerful impact on sexual violence prevention. How do we increase the number of situations and the number of people who are willing to say or do something in the face of sexual violence'

As a service member you have the responsibility to say "no" to the dirty joke at work or in your home. You have a responsibility to stand up for another service member who is being sexually harassed or go up your chain to bring the situation to the attention of your leaders.

At a party, when you see another person who is too drunk to give informed consent, offer to drive that person home or get her friends to take her safely home.
As a military leader, you must set the tone in your organization of a zero tolerance for sexually inappropriate talk or behavior. You can invite your SARC for regular Commander's Calls and display their contact information prominently.

As a parent, you have to talk frankly with your children about sexual assault and date rape. You can intervene when they watch a movie or TV show or listen to music that demeans women or endorses sexual violence. You can listen to their conversations and when they refer to a classmate using derogatory and sexually explicit language, tell them you don't allow those kinds of remarks and explain why.

We are all bystanders and, as members of the Fort Meade community, we have a responsibility to stop sexual assaults before they happen.

Dr. Elizabeth Allen is Fort Meade's Air Force Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16