This past weekend, I watched the documentary Roll Red Roll on Netflix. As described on the Netflix website, “When social media, ‘boys will be boys,’ and vigilante justice collide, Steubenville, Ohio will never be the same.” The documentary depicts how bystanders, coaches, parents and fellow classmates of members of a beloved football program, protect the assailants and dis-credit the victim of a public sexual assault at a pre-season football party, until one blogger starts investigating. In the end, two of the players are convicted and then later, members of the coaching staff and school have charges brought against them for hindering the investigations of not only this crime, but a prior sexual assault in the same year that went unreported and unpun-ished.
While watching the documentary and seeing the tapes of fellow partygoers being questioned, I wished that even just one of the onlookers – one of the bystanders – had stepped up to help this young woman. Some came close. One young woman said that she would have helped her… but the victim was from another school and wasn’t one of her close friends. During questioning a young man from the party was asked if he took pictures. He replied, yes. When I was just about to yell at him through my television screen, he was asked why, and he responded that he was so bothered by what was happening that he wanted to show his dad.
There was one small ray of light. At the end of the documentary, they interviewed a fellow teammate of the convicted players. He spoke about how these young men had been his friends, but nevertheless, what they did was wrong and that it was wrong for everyone else to just stand by and let it happen. He said he had wished he was there that night because he would have stopped it. I believed him. There was other footage of him disagreeing with his teammates and taking a stand when they were cracking misogynist jokes.
Unfortunately, he was not at the party. But let’s say he was. Let’s turn back time and put him at the party. When questioned, party goers reported that about thirty people were at the house party. Given those numbers, we can conclude at best about 1 in 30 would stand up and step in.
Why is bystander intervention so difficult? Why is it hard to call out an inappropriate joke or step in if you are concerned about someone else? Very often, bystanders exhibit what is called the “bystander effect”. Bystanders fail to intervene because they think someone else will. When it comes to sexual assault, there are even more reasons bystanders don’t intervene. Some fail to notice anything happening. Many bystanders don’t believe it is their responsibility. Bystanders can also have a deep concern that, by stepping in, those around them will judge them for doing so. Many don’t believe they have the skills to intervene.
Family Safety Network has been working to raise awareness about bystander intervention. During this year’s Music on Main series, FSN had a presence at the front gate handing out stickers and bracelets imprinted with “Stand Up, #DontStandBy.” You can visit www.familysafetynet-work.info/dontstandby to see a list of 13 Bystander Intervention Tips and a link to the national NO MORE campaign with additional bystander tips and scenarios.
You can make a difference. Educate yourself as a potential bystander. We can all play a role in preventing sexual assault. By taking a step to prevent sexual assault as a bystander, you step not only between a potential victim and a perpetrator, you start changing the toxic culture that perpetuates sexual assault. Bystanders become agents of change in our community. We can each stand up for the safety of those around us and start to change the statistics surrounding sexual assault. One less victim is one less statistic and one more person in our community spared the trauma of sexual assault or any other form of violence.