Sexual assault: the importance of bystander intervention on a college campus

“We say consent is sexy, but now we say consent is sexy and necessary,” said Anthony DiNicola in an interview.

Anthony DiNicola brought Catharsis Production’s program “The Hook Up” to Western Carolina’s campus to discuss the thing students feel more and more comfortable discussing: hooking up, sexual assault, and rape.

Anthony DiNicola showing students “The Hook Up” and educating them on college sexual assault. Photo by Gavin Stewart.

DiNicola connected with the students in the audience and fed off their feedback for a few goals:  to recognize that sexual assault also happens to men,  and to identify ways to prevent sexual assault.  The students were anxious is talking about the topics because of how timely the conversation was.

Most students having gone through WCU’s enrollment have learned about things like alcohol and hooking up through programs like AlcoholEduHaven, and if they are associated with Greek life, GreekLifeEdu.  These programs touched on many subjects – bystander intervention not being highlighted.  DiNicola alternatively defined bystander intervention as “outstanding intervention.”

According to Stop Sexual Violence: A Sexual Violence Bystander Intervention Kit, bystander intervention is the act of feeling empowered and equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively assist in the prevention of sexual violence.  So what resources do students have to learn more about safety and bystander intervention?

As of March 1, WCU campus police have led 61 programs ranging from rape to crime and active shooter education according to Sgt. Jacob Deal. Usually the police do these programs in classrooms, residence halls, athletics, and Greek life all upon request by the organizations. One of campus police’s most popular programs is Crime Prevention and Services which educates faculty and students on different ways to report crimes to the police and lists important campus phone numbers. Campus police also has a program called Sexual Assault Risk Prevention that goes more in depth about risk reduction, primary prevention, and bystander intervention.

“We can pretty much do a program for anybody,” said Sgt. Jacob Deal. “Even for a group of students that have questions about something.”  He was eager to give information about the programs so that students know they are options for them.

Sex offenses according to the 2016 Fire & Safety Report.

According to the 2016 WCU Fire and Safety Report, six rapes happened on campus and in residence halls in 2015, which is more than 2013 and 2014. The 2016 statistic has not been published yet, and WCU Campus Police could not release it.  A low percentage of victims report sexual assault according to Anthony DiNicola.  The rise in number could simply mean people are feeling more empowered to report it.

In most college cases, stranger rape is not common and rape usually occurs at a college party. “If we can educate an entire organization, everyone in that fraternity or sorority or whatever it may be can watch for these situations together instead of just having one person on the lookout,” said DiNicola.

Coleman Leopard, president of the WCU chapter of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, says his organizations takes necessary measures to educate their members on sexual assault. “This year we had a national representative [from Delta Sigma Phi]  come in and speak about the importance of bystander intervention and how exactly to go about stepping in and preventing a bad situation the right way,” said Leopard. Delta Sigma Phi also hosts a forum on sexual assault annually, and they attended a group event covering many topics and intervention with several fraternities hosted by Walter Turner from the Department of Student Community Ethics.

Samantha Harris, vice president of risk management of Alpha Chi Omega, says the sisters of her sorority are advocates for healthy relationships and domestic violence awareness.

“Each sister has been educated on how to build a healthy relationship and what a healthy relationship is, signs of domestic violence, and readily available resources to aid anyone going through a violent or abusive relationship and what steps to take when one hears about or witnesses an act of sexual assault,” said Harris.  Alpha Chi Omega also utilizes several programs like “Let’s Talk Love,” a program about dating violence and healthy relationships,  and “Not Anymore,” an online program about sexual assault and relationship violence.

To find out more about these programs, visit WCU Campus Police online and see programming. To find out more about “The Hook Up”, visit Catharsis Productions online on Facebook and Twitter.