April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Reasons and ways to safely move beyond bystander to upstander.

This article, by Callie Wight, originally appeared in the Idyllwild Town Crier on April 13, 2017.

Nothing in this article is meant to be medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider.

Some information contained below is taken from:

Please! don’t turn away when I say that April is sexual assault awareness month. I know we prefer not to talk about it. Nevertheless, it’s still a major problem for women, men, children and even elders. It doesn’t go away just because we turn away.

Sexual assault affects not only survivors’ long-term emotional health but their health in general. Survivors report feeling depressed and anxious, worthless, damaged and often are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Survivors may self-medicate the enduring emotional pain with drugs and alcohol. Survivors often have higher incidence of chronic health problems such as asthma, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension.

Sadly, much sexual assault could have been prevented if bystanders had not turned away but instead had intervened to prevent or stop. Some call this bystander intervention being an “upstander”.

Even without professional training, we can all help to prevent, stop or reduce sexual assault by learning simple, safe and proven-effective bystander intervention techniques.

Read on!

The “bystander effect” is an odd reality where folks tend not to help in risky, especially interpersonal, situations. Instead, we ignore and walk away. One cause is simply because we don’t know what else to do.

Lucky us, public health advocates all across the globe have developed something called the “4 D’s” of bystander intervention: direct; distract; delegate; delay.

First, here are some overarching guidelines.

Do NOT put yourself at risk.

Do NOT make the situation worse.

Look for early warning signs of trouble, such as raised voices, pushing or shoving, cornering, trying to isolate a potential victim from the group and from help or witnesses, ganging up. If the potential victim is incapacitated or feeling too intimidated to help her/himself, these early signs can be solid indicators that nothing good is about to happen.

Intervene at the earliest point possible, preventing escalation. This is often the easiest moment in which to successfully change the dynamic.

Intervening does not necessarily mean confronting. Check out your options below.

Ask for help from others standing by. Group intervention may be safer than going solo. It is effective and the deterrent effect can be longer-lasting. It takes a village.

The 4 D’s:

Direct: Step up by stepping in to prevent or stop a problem. Remember the first guideline, though: do not put yourself or others around you at risk.

Delegate: There may be good reasons to not go direct. Seek help from someone with more authority to intervene.

Distract: Interrupting the situation without directly confronting the offender. This can be fun, even: “Hey, isn’t that your car? You’re getting a ticket”. Then spirit away the victim. Be creative.

DelayIf none of the above seems like a good idea then check in later with the victim. See if they need help, support, someone to talk to or to assist them to get professional help if needed.

Go beyond bystander; be an upstander!

Callie Wight, a member of the Phoenix Alliance, is a California state-licensed registered nurse with a Master of Arts in psychology.

Image: Pinterest (Crockett’s Classroom/Civil Rights Leaders)

Author: Daniel Rondeau

I am a husband and father and an Episcopal Priest (from the Diocese of San Diego; "Retired" due to illness).

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