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Bystanders Can “Do Something”!

January 18, 2012

by Christina M., Sexual Violence Center Volunteer

Prevention is a mixed bag of tricks, from “reductionist” strategies for victims to preaching to would-be perpetrators to mandatory arrest laws. All these prevention strategies have had mixed and dubious results. But I’ve got to let the cat out of the bag. There’s a new prevention strategy that has some real power. It’s called Green Dot and it’s all focused on bystander action.

Bystander action is a fancy term for all the people who witness or have privy information into the lives of victims and perpetrators of sexual violence. For every person that is sexually assaulted, there are at least three “bystanders” to this crime: family, coworkers, friends, and even strangers in some cases. When your coworker comes to work with a black eye (and not from a bar fight), you are a bystander to sexual violence. When your child refuses to be babysat by the neighbor, you might be a bystander to the red flags of child sexual abuse. A red dot happens in the time it takes to raise one’s hand against a partner’s face. There is so such thing as neutrality. Not doing anything about it is just as good as encouragement.

Bystander action is not about policing people’s lives; rather, it’s about having a sense of shared responsibility and intolerance to violence. You cannot do everything, but everyone can do something. “Something” could mean educating yourself about the signs of child sexual abuse and encouraging your children to share with you if they don’t feel safe. “Something” could mean checking in with your friend about their new relationship. “Something” could mean watching out for your friends at a college party or club. “Something” could mean publicly expressing your beliefs about consensual sex!

If a red dot is every time that a moment of power-based personal violence occurs (an emotional and physical trauma), then a green dot is every time we prevent a red dot from occurring or intervene. Imagine where red dots are occurring in your community: everywhere. If we can eliminate red dots one green dot at a time, we can change the culture of sexual violence. If we all, as bystanders to a great number of lives, stand up with a word, action or belief of intolerance to violence, then haven’t we changed something about norms of violence? At the heart of it, green dots are all about changing social norms of violence and respect. No more will we stand neutrally and watch as our communities are silently destroyed by sexual violence.

The Sexual Violence Center is educating communities about Green Dot. Learn more here.

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