The University of Essex has introduced a new initiative to keep their students safe from sexual violence and harassment on campus. The new scheme ‘Bringing in the Bystander’ aims to equip students with the skills to intervene if they see others in a difficult situation such as sexual assault, being approached by someone in a nightclub, or being made to feel uncomfortable by another student.
They also teach those at the workshop how to approach a friend about relationship violence and stalking as these are still a notable problem in the UK- it is thought that upwards of 700,000 women are stalked in the UK each year. By attempting to tackle these issues, the university is actively educating their students and equipping them with the skills needed to recognise potentially dangerous situations and safely intervene.
It is based on the community approach- instead of being an absent bystander, being an active one. Alerting the security team in a nightclub if you see someone is being made to feel uncomfortable or finding the friends of the vulnerable person are tips that are given in the Bystander workshops. The two hour session starts with a PowerPoint presentation with some background information on the project and cases of university-based, well-known sexual assault cases. There is then a range of activities and a time for discussion based on how to spot and intervene if you see someone being harassed and what resources there are to your disposal. There is also a focus on developing empathy for victims.
According to a recent survey one in ten female university students had been raped. These figures from Revolt Sexual Assault highlight a problem that needs tackling- programmes such as the Bystander Intervention training are a good way of talking about the issue and making people aware of possible signs to be spotted.
Miayah Wright is a third year student and Bystander Intervention trainer at the University of Essex: “This programme is for students on campus and it aims to create a community. If they see someone who needs help and is in a situation they don’t just walk by, they get involved and make a difference. The sessions are for everyone and we would encourage as many students to come along as they can. We run the classes every week in the first term of every year, this is my first time as a trainer but I knew that when I went to one of the classes myself last year that I wanted to become more involved.”
She went through a training course of her own alongside other student trainers on the kinds of language to use during the sessions. The classes are a safe space to talk openly about personal experiences if you wish to do so, and the confidentiality of the session means that many students can find support in one another. The workshops are proving popular with students and I spoke to a few of them after the session had ended. Ivo De Gortarti enjoyed the session and expressed the need for them to become mandatory:
“My experience with the Bystander Intervention Workshop was great. We were provided with real, hard-hitting examples of harassment in university settings and given ideas and tactics to use in order to stop them.
Not only that, we were also taught how to communicate and collaborate with the victims in a helpful way. I fully recommend these workshops and even think they should be mandatory for certain SU entities.”
Ines Jobin, a third year student explained how she came to take part in the class: “As I was invited to participate because of my exec position in a sports club, I don’t know if all students on campus were invited to do so too, but I think we could all benefit of having a large number of students taking part. It could be a real eye-opening experience to many people I think, especially for those who are not so conscious of what happens on campus quite regularly. I would maybe encourage them to look out for each other more, and be confident to intervene when necessary.”
Alongside the Bystander training, the university has been working with the Students’ Union and Feminist Society to create the #ItEndsNow campaign. The aim of this is to spread the message that sexual assault and harassment on campus will not be tolerated and make students aware of the Bystander Training sessions. The SU and the university’s Student Support team created a video featuring a number of students in a range of scenarios to raise awareness of campus assault.
Savanna Rayment is President of the University of Essex Feminist Society and has often found that she has been in situations where she uses the techniques from the Bystander Intervention classes. However she does think that there needs to more support from the university from those who push charges in light of a sexual assault: “It has been very popular this year which is great to see and i know so many people who have taken part in it including myself. A lot of people do these things without knowing- I have many a time stepped in if i see a guy seeming to be too forward with a woman in a nightclub or vice versa and pretended that I know them. I think the workshop is a great way of training.
But saying that we do still have a long way to go in terms of making sure the people that need access to these resources know how to get there and a judgement free way of doing things- whether or not they go through pushing legal or disciplinary action.”
Should you wish to take part in the next Bystander Intervention class, they will be listed on the Events page of the University of Essex website. If you would like to get involved or learn more about ‘Bringing in the Bystander’ and #ItEndsNow, contact Student Support for more details.