Could “Bystander Education” Have Stopped CA Gang Rape?


Experts in preventing sexual violence say the failure of witnesses to intervene in the Richmond, Ca., gang rape of a girl, 15, isn't surprising. Dorothy Edwards of the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center at the University of Kentucky tells Newsweek, “Everyone likes to think, ‘If I were there, I would've done something.’ But being passive is not atypical.” Some advocate “bystander education” for schools. Sexual-violence prevention often focuses on the victim (discouraging women from walking alone at night) or the perpetrator (reiterating the fact that no means no). The bystander approach emphasizes the role witnesses can play in supporting or challenging violence.

The MVP (Mentors in Violence Prevention) program, developed in 1993 at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sports in Society, tries to teach students how to stop violence when they see it. It involves a two-day training for teachers, coaches, and administrators, who then train their students. “Most people think they only have two choices for intervention,” says Jackson Katz, a cofounder of the program. “One is to intervene physically right at the point of attack, and the other is to do nothing. And that's a false set of choices.” In MVP, students talk about the menu of options–from getting a group of friends together to calling 911. A set of scenarios allows students to imagine what they might do in a variety of situations. Each scenario comes with a list of viable interventions. Dozens of schools are implementing MVP, and similar initiatives are popping up.

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