By Brandon BieltzApril 12, 2012
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (April 12, 2012) -- Everybody is a bystander. And it is up to everyone to stop sexual assault if they see it happening.
That was the message retired Air Force Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Janie Allen gave during a 90-minute Bystander Intervention class Tuesday afternoon at the Community Readiness Center.
The Army Community Service class was one of several courses offered on the installation to mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
"The philosophy behind bystander intervention training is that instead of responding to a sexual assault, you teach people the skills to intervene before it ever happens," Allen said. "We'd rather stop a sexual assault than respond to one that's already happened."
The program was designed to offer one course on Monday for woman and another for men on Tuesday with different focal points during each class.
The objective of the women's class was to empower female service members to take action against what they see happening. The men's class focused on getting participants thinking about how they should intervene, regardless of who is being assaulted.
"Male training is designed to involve men in the program so they realize that although they may not be a potential victim, some woman that they love might be, and that any potential victim is loved by some man," Allen said.
Through open discussions with class participants, Allen explained how every day, everybody is a bystander to various situations that may require intervention, whether it's inappropriate touching or using offensive words.
To not act, Allen said, could be a product of our society and the concept of private space. But it doesn't have to be that way, she said.
"We can all intervene when we see something happen," Allen said.
Proposing various scenarios that may take place in an office or in the military, from cursing and name calling to unwanted touching, Allen and participants discussed possible ways to intervene.
Participants said that sometimes the concept of the scenarios took them out of their comfort zone, but thought it was necessary to properly teach the topic of intervention.
"You get in there and learn some things," said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Pardue, the installation's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program manager, who attended the course. "It takes a good trainer like Dr. Allen who will actually say things in class that will take you out of your comfort zone."
The role of leadership in preventing sexual assault was also a topic of discussion during Tuesday's class. As leaders in the military, Allen said, it is up to them to lead by example and speak up if something is wrong.
Despite offering two courses on bystander intervention, only a handful of service members attended the program. Pardue said service members missed a "good opportunity" by not attending the training session.
Samantha Herring, the installation's SARC and victims' advocate, added that these kinds of courses provide valuable information on how to talk about sexual assault prevention at home with their families.
"They're missing the opportunity to learn and gather effective tools for having this conversation at home," she said.
Although the low turnout was disappointing for Herring, it pointed out another problem with sexual assault.
"I think the reason a lot of sexual assaults occur is because we don't talk about it," she said. "It's taboo, it's hush-hush. But the only way we move from victim to victor is if we talk about it."