Bringing in the Bystander program teaches sexual assault bystander ethics

The Student Health and Counseling Center (SHCC) offers interesting and instructive trainings and workshops to promote the health and wellness of students here at UAA. As part of offering students crucial services for all-around wellness, programs like Bringing in the Bystander provide students with education and an action plan for responsible intervention and prevention of sexual violence.

“I think most people who grow up in Alaska or have lived in Alaska most of their lives are kind of aware that Alaska is number one in sexual assault in the country, so I think that’s always been a huge concern to me,” said Johanna Richter, Economics major.

Richter works for the SHCC as one of the four Peer Health Educators who teach the Bringing in the Bystander class. State statistics shows that one out of two women surveyed in Anchorage have been a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, and the Bringing in the Bystander class raises awareness about these societal issues.

Richter got involved with the Bystander program through UAA’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition for change. Richter said that in an interaction where sexual assault occurs, the parties involved are the perpetrator of the assault, the survivor of the assault, and bystanders who could’ve done something to prevent that assault from happening. Bringing in the Bystander aims to prevent sexual assault by getting bystanders involved in safe and effective ways.

“The purpose of our program is to focus on the bystander rather than the perpetrator or the survivor and to empower people who maybe could step in and stop the assault,” said Richter, “and teach them techniques so they can do that in a way that one, is effective in preventing that assault and two, doing it in a way to protects their safety, because we definitely don’t want people to compromise their personal safety either.”

Educational betterment, increased awareness and empowerment of bystanders are the main goals of the program, as well as providing a safe space for people to ask questions and participate.

“We have a presentation that we go through that explains what consent is, what rape culture looks like, what good bystander behavior looks like, the bystander effect, which is where a lot of times people will see really bad things happen but they don’t feel like they can help in the situation so they don’t do anything,” said Richter.

The bystander effect is a well-documented social psychological phenomenon where individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. There are lots of factors influencing the occurrence of this phenomenon, and the biggest two, a lack of knowledge or courage to offer help, and the diffusion of responsibility to offer help, are what Bringing in the Bystander aims to target. A large part of the program discusses rape culture, myths about rape and sexual assault, and consent.

“Sexual assault isn’t just men assaulting women, it can be women assaulting men, it can be in homosexual relationships, it’s not just that one scenario,” said Richter.

Bringing in the Bystander also works to help establish clear standards for consent to help clear up some of that confusion. Richter said that the class also uses scenarios where potential assaults could occur to describe specific examples of safe ways to intervene, called “good bystander behavior.”

“For example, you [a bystander] can confront the individual who is trying to take someone somewhere, and it’s safer to do that in a group of people rather than do that by yourself,” said Richter. “You can say things like ‘oh, your car is being towed!’ or do things like that to distract the individual so you can get the person to safety.”

The information and strategies laid out by the program are comprehensive and helpful, and consistently help people become better informed and prepared bystanders.

Betty Bang, a UAA SHCC nurse practitioner and health educator, told TNL that Peer Educators are going through a training to get certified, and that the SHCC will be accepting applications in the spring for the position. Bang talked about how the program can increase positive intervention.

“Research has shown that if people see someone acting in a positive manner, being a positive bystander, they are more likely to be them,” said Bang. “That’s why we show people all these examples of good behavior and going through scenarios of, what could you do. There’s something that everybody can do… We chose Bringing in the Bystander because it was sustainable, where we could train folks and use Peer Health educators.”

The work that health educators are doing through Bringing in the Bystander empowers students and fosters community wellness. The facilitators of the program have found that their lessons are making a positive impact.

“We have a before and after survey that we do with people in the program; a lot of times in the beginning people aren’t really sure what they can do, they aren’t sure what, in a situation where something bad is going on, they can do to intervene and what appropriate bystander behavior looks like,” said Richter. “At the end of the class we do a second survey where we have people explain what they learned from the class and generally the attitudes at the end are that they feel far more confident and comfortable in terms of what they can do in that regard.”

A challenge that UAA care providers face is making sure that all the great resources and services that exist can actually reach people who need it. Disseminating the information has proven difficult, but the program covers a number of resources for sexual assault victims and bystanders.

“We also talk about resources in Alaska for survivors of sexual assault, which is what the Counseling Center provides,” said Richter, “What process you can go through if you want to report, like through the university or to the police, as well as making sure that survivors do have administrative support if they want to report an assault.”

Increasing the accessibility of resources is something that all health professionals are UAA are working to make happen.

“We are on the DVSA Coalition for change, we’re trying to all support each other with all different programming across campus,” said Bang. “We’ve had a lot of really good support from the Dean of Students.”

Since August, the Bringing in the Bystander program has trained 315 students, including 158 athletes, RAs and Student Union leaders. The program has reached countless more through tabling events and other sexual assault prevention programming throughout the year.

“I think that lots of bystanders of sexual assault don’t even know they are bystanders. Educating the public would be the best first step towards decreasing sexual assault in my opinion,” said Amanda Roberts, a Biological Sciences major. “Teach people to look for the signs, and what to do when they see them. Bringing in the Bystander at UAA sounds like a program that aims to inform people in a less confrontational manner. Sexual assault is a huge problem, and I admire those who are working to make a change.”

The next class being taught will happen in North Hall on Nov. 11, available to North Hall residents. Contact information for the program can be found online on the SHCC’s UAA page.


SHCC Services:

• Birth control and emergency contraception

· Campus outreach and promotions, Classroom lectures, Health education seminars

· Community referral for complex or specialized medical needs

· Depression screenings

· Emergency food cache for students

· Free HIV screening, TB tests $6.00 each

· Prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections

· Program specific health requirements

· Public health interventions

· Routine immunizations

· “Stress buster” events such as free lunches during final exams

· Travel counseling and travel immunizations


• Anchorage Community Mental Health Crisis Line 563-3200

• Providence Hospital Mental Health Emergency Dept. 261-2800

Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) 279-9851

Stand Together Against Rape (STAR) 276-7273 (crisis line) 1-800-478-8999

• Gay and Lesbian Help-Line (6-11pm) 258-4777

• Alaska Women’s Resource Center. 610 “C” St., Anchorage, 99501; 276-0528

Community Support Groups:

Alaska Mental Health Association 563-0880

• grief/loss/death support

Stand Together Against Rape 276-7273

Victims for Justice 278-0977 (advocacy and support for victims of crime)

Clinics and Hospitals

Good Samaritan Counseling Center & Associates 565-4000

• Northstar Hospital 258-7575

• Providence Behavioral Medicine Group 373-8080 (Wasilla) 212-6900 (Anchorage)

Written by Kathryn Casello