Penn State

Workshop: Role of bystanders key to combating sexual assault

Katie Tenny leads the discussion during the Bystander Intervention Training hosted by the Commission for Women’s Personal Safety and Sexual Assault Awareness Issues Committee on Wednesday.
Katie Tenny leads the discussion during the Bystander Intervention Training hosted by the Commission for Women’s Personal Safety and Sexual Assault Awareness Issues Committee on Wednesday. CDT photo

It’s not up to the bystander to choose to have influence or not. They simply do by observing a potentially dangerous situation at a given time.

A lot of times these situations are not as obvious as one would want them to be, which can be tricky at times, but everyone has intuition. If your gut is telling you something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.

“A lot of the time it’s not running into burning buildings. It’s everyday things,” said Katie Tenny, a licensed counselor who specializes in interpersonal violence and human rights issues.

“This isn’t about being a hero. It’s about recognizing a potentially harmful situation,” she said.

Tenny, alongside Kim Menard, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Penn State, led a bystander intervention workshop at Foster Auditorium on Wednesday.

About 90 students and residents attended the workshop hosted by Penn State’s Commission for Women, an advisory group concerned with the status of women at Penn State and their concerns.

“I previously worked for a district attorney and was very interested in being involved once I came to Penn State,” said Sarah Peacock, a member of the commission. “I’m also a survivor, so that’s my personal motivation.”

Bystander intervention is a science that involves either a person known to the victim or a stranger intervening in a situation that looks like someone is in danger. A bystander is generally someone who assumes someone else will do something if they don’t get involved.

This method teaches those who would normally not engage themselves in an unexpected situation to get involved and help either directly or discreetly.

Tenny and Menard said their motivation for hosting the workshop was that they noticed too many people witnessing something bad happening and no one doing anything about it. They wanted this workshop to serve as motivation and as a guide for those who freeze up in potentially harmful situations.

Those who attended the workshop were taught that they can safely and effectively prevent sexual assault by following at least one of the three Ds: direct, distract and delegate.

Direct would be a bystander directly approaching the situation and seeing if the potential victim is OK. If a bystander is unsure of the situation or is scared to get directly involved, they can cause a distraction to shift the offender’s attention. The final method is to delegate, which can also be used by a wary bystander by contacting the police or finding the friends of the person who may be at risk.

In saying we can all do something to prevent sexual assault at one point or another Tenny said, “We want you to have options to intervene. We want you to be able to intervene in a way that’s safe, effective, and not super awkward.”

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