Bystanders need to take responsibility for sexual assault

By Lanthorn Editorial Board | 9/24/17 9:38pm

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In the past few weeks, Grand Valley State University has sent out both a timely warning email and a safety notice email, alerting community members of an on-campus sexual assault and an attempted off-campus sexual assault, respectively. Both of these alerts described the perpetrators as groups of men, not lone predators. Perhaps more shockingly, in the case of the first timely warning, only one of the men was accused of assaulting the victim in question, while the rest of the men were merely observers who later ran away.

With so many individuals involved, one has to wonder why no one intervened in either of these cases. Surely someone could have persuaded the group to leave without assaulting anyone.

But no. Call it peer pressure or, more accurately, scumbaggery, but it seems that none of the witnesses or participants stopped the assaults in either of the incidents.

This is exactly why GVSU places such a heavy emphasis on bystander intervention training. The university recognizes the power of active bystanders, whose intervention could drastically alter the outcome of a situation in which sexual violence is an imminent threat.

In fact, the Division of Inclusion and Equity just sent out a campus-wide email with an online training module about bystander intervention.

In addition, numerous programs at GVSU, including "It's on Us" and ReACT!, focus on equipping GVSU students with the tools and information they need to be active bystanders. With their numerous educational events held through the academic year, these organizations serve the GVSU community by spreading information and awareness.

This is another reason why it's notable that GVSU dedicated a significant portion of its 2017 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, released today, to providing information about sexual crimes, resources and bystander intervention. 

Recognizing students' concerns and striving to create a safe campus environment, the authors of the report chose to highlight some of GVSU's most notable sexual violence resources, including the Victim's Rights and Options (VRO) website.

The VRO website offers information about different campus resources, options and initiatives, including the campus victim advocate, definitions, police response options, bystander intervention training, risk reduction tips and more. This is a valuable tool for all students, staff and faculty, as the information is updated regularly.

As the GVSU community is forced to confront these group assaults, we must ask ourselves if we are doing everything we can as a collective community and as individuals to confront sexual violence. When you see someone aggressively hitting on an intoxicated individual at a party, do you intervene, or do you turn the other way? 

When your group of buddies decides to assault a lone individual walking at night, do you stand by and do nothing, or do you jump in to stop the assault?

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