Empowering Bystanders to Stop Sexual Violence

(Salt Lake City, Utah) – One in three Utah women will experience some form of sexual violence during their lives. Studies also show that one in eight Utah women and one in 50 Utah men will be raped. The direct and indirect costs resulting from sexual violence in 2011 alone totaled almost $5 billion, which was about $1,700 per Utah resident. The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) will begin using a promising new strategy, called bystander intervention, to equip citizens with the skills and tools necessary to prevent sexual violence.

“Bystander intervention is simple to understand; however, it’s often not practiced because people lack the confidence and training to intervene in potentially violent situations,” explained Marty Liccardo, men’s engagement specialist with the UDOH Violence and Injury Prevention Program.

Bystander intervention occurs when someone intervenes before, during, or after a situation that is violent or harmful to another person, group, or community. For example, a bystander could interrupt an argument between friends or partners, tell someone not to bully or criticize another person, or get help for someone who is being harmed or victimized.

Research suggests bystander intervention is effective but requires practice to be successful – individuals need to learn skills and practice those skills in order to be prepared to do something when the time comes. “Many people just aren’t sure what to do to help others or they think someone else will help. Bystander intervention aims to empower people to step up and act when they hear or see harm,” said Liccardo.

This strategy is appealing to prevention professionals because it can reduce victim-blaming, shift unhealthy and negative social norms to more positive beliefs, and help every person find their place and responsibility in violence prevention.

The UDOH will offer bystander intervention trainings for community agencies to coincide with April being National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Distraction and “silent stares” or making people aware that they are being observed are just a few of the strategies that will be taught to diffuse a potentially violent situation. Other bystander intervention tips include:

  • Make sure you are safe first and will continue to be safe when you intervene.
  • Recruit others to help you.
  • If you can’t intervene safely, call for help.

“We hope the training actually moves people from being bystanders to what we call ‘upstanders’ or anyone who steps in or responds when they believe someone is being harmed,” said Liccardo.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted and needs help, call the Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 1-888-421-1100. The hotline is free and open 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

For more information about bystander intervention and sexual violence prevention, visit http://health.utah.gov/vipp.

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Media Contact:
Tammy Kikuchi
Violence and Injury Prevention Program
(801) 538-6426
[email protected]