Making a modern hero through bystander-intervention training

By in Opinions

Being a hero doesn’t have to be hard. We know that doing the right thing isn’t limited to putting on a costume and beating up drug dealers and criminal kingpins. All you need to do is start small, and you can learn how right here on campus.

Bystander-intervention training consists of courses developed to teach individuals how to prevent, respond to and react to incidents of sexual violence, harassment and assault. The University of Saskatchewan has offered some version of bystander-intervention training for several years now. However, it was only last year that the Peer Health Centre transitioned it from a student-run workshop to a licensed program called Bringing in the Bystander. 

Bringing in the Bystander is an evidence-based course developed by Prevention Innovations Research Center. It was originally designed to address issues of sexual assault at the University of New Hampshire. Since then, it has been licensed by universities across North America.

Sabrina Materie, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the U of S, works part-time with the Peer Health Centre on campus. Materie is one of about 20 people chosen to receive training on how to facilitate the course. She has since led nine workshops where she shares what she has learned with students and staff.

Materie appreciates the course because it expands beyond reacting to an assault in progress and works towards targeting the elements of campus culture that might lead to an assault.

“The program is introduced with a discussion about what a bystander is,” Materie said. “We have pretty strong perceptions that a bystander is someone who witnesses a criminal event, or a situation that might lead to a criminal event, and through their position, they have either the option to do nothing, to intervene and de-escalate the situation or to contribute to the negative behaviour.”

The course seeks to provide participants with the knowledge and confidence necessary to recognize hazardous situations and intervene as prosocial bystanders — by knowing exactly what to say in order to prevent a situation from getting worse.

“It starts with scenarios of assaults that happened on campuses that have quite a high public profile, where we can report enough of the facts to tell a story, and then, the participants are invited to identify all the points in the story where a bystander could have intervened,” Materie said.

It seems that, in many cases, sexual violence, harassment and assaults could have been stopped by any number of preventative measures.

“You can’t predict that your friend is going to get raped if they walk home from a party alone, but if you take that basic step, you could prevent it without ever knowing that you did,” Materie said.

Another useful skill offered through the course is how to effectively handle disclosures of sexual violence, harassment and assault. The facilitators teach you how to be an effective bystander by just being there for someone, empathetically, if they are disclosing to you.

“There has been research that shows [that] the way that someone responds to a survivor when they’re giving their first disclosure really impacts the trajectory of their healing and the way that they process that experience,” Materie said.

Materie offers some reassurance for survivors of sexual assault.

“Things are changing…I know this university has had a problem with sexual assault, and the response to sexual assault, on campus,” Materie said. “For survivors, there is support out there for you, it was never your fault, and we’re working to make as much change as we can, so that this stops happening on campus.”

The Peer Health Centre will be offering this training, which is completely free for students, in the form of a two-hour workshop occurring approximately twice a month. Completion of the program will result in a certificate and an attribution on your your co-curricular record. Upcoming dates include Oct. 9 and Oct. 25. To find more information or register for an upcoming course, visit usask.ca/consent.

Rychel Smith

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor