When I first heard that Men Can Stop Rape was coming to campus, I was really glad to hear that UM (SARC, specifically) was taking steps to prevent sexual assault and directly address the social problem through prevention. I was pleased that something like this was happening, yet I didn’t really plan on attending any of the meetings or workshops. When my professor told our class that we would be exempt from either the midterm or the final if we attended, I figured I would be a fool to pass up her offer. The workshops and seminars went from 11-3 and 5-8, so it was by no means a small commitment. The morning of the 1st, I packed my wallet in my backpack, figuring I’d definitely need some snacks or coffee to get me through the long day.
Now that I have attended the Men Can Stop Rape, I am extremely grateful that my professor made such a tempting offer. Sure, I’m glad that I got out of what would probably have been a painful essay exam, but I’m mostly glad that I decided to attend. As a Women’s and Gender Studies minor, I was pretty familiar with a lot of the issues they discussed. What impressed me most was the manner in which they presented this information and the way they engaged in a group discussion. For many of the audience members, this was all somewhat unfamiliar. The facilitators presented the information in a way that was clear, concise, and accessible to people of all backgrounds.
My favorite example was their “Sitting by the River” scenario. They asked us to picture sitting by a river, relaxing and listening to music. A person came down the river, obviously drowning, and you saved them by pulling them out of the water. A few minutes later, two people came by in the river, both drowning. You’re a little confused, but you save them also. A few minutes after that, ten people come down the river, all drowning. At this point the facilitators asked us what we would be thinking at this point. One gentleman raised his hand and said, “Where are the people coming from? Why are they all drowning?” The scenario framed the importance of looking at the causes of sexual assault. We need to save the people drowning, but we also need to figure out what is causing this and prevent sexual assault from happening in the first place.
The evening seminar focused on bystander training. We discussed several scenarios and possible solutions to intervene. A fraternity in Ohio created my favorite one that I thought was most useful. The facilitator, Alex, said that the gentlemen at the fraternity had a code, a “buddy system,” where they looked out for one another. If one of their buddies was doing something that was inappropriate, like behaving oppressively towards a girl that was overly intoxicated, they intervened. The friend would tap their buddy on the shoulder and say, “Joe needs to talk to you.” There was no Joe at the fraternity. This was a way to call a friend out and let them know they were in a situation where someone could get in trouble or hurt. It stopped the behavior without humiliating anyone. I think this is a great idea for groups of friends to use to look after one another.
Why does sexual assault happen? What can we do to prevent it? These are two questions that invite an entire dialogue, one that simply cannot be covered in 7 hours, or even an entire day. I left the seminar thinking about both of these questions and wondering what I can do to be an effective bystander and help look out for people in my community as well as change the attitudes that are so prevalent in our society.
Check out mencanstoprape.org. It’s a great organization. Be aware of offensive language and small behaviors that contribute to a culture where women are devalued and suffer from harassment and violence. Be a bystander, and help those who might be in a situation where they can’t help themselves.