Guest Blogger: Erin Doolin, Women's Center

How to be an Active Bystander Off-Campus 

At Boston College, we are fortunate to have a proactive and far-reaching program to educate students about consent, rape culture, sexual assault intervention techniques in the Bystander Intervention Program. 

Our presenters have been giving this presentation to various student groups for years, but as of last year, it’s required that all freshmen go through this program. Since freshman year is the biggest “dangerzone” in terms of vulnerability to sexual assault, it makes sense that the main focus of this program would be on freshmen. For many, it’s the first time away from home and first time being in a party environment, and in turn, the pressure to fit in is never higher. 

As students get more comfortable and settled into Boston College life, the role of being an active bystander in our community doesn’t become less important. As new crops of freshmen arrive on campus, they will be looking to you - upperclassmen - as a model for social behavior.

The Women’s Center has programs that can serve as continuing education for our BC upperclassmen - One Love, ThinkTank, and more. In addition to expanding your knowledge there are ways that, as an off-campus student, you can continue to utilize the information given in the original Bystander Intervention Presentation in your new role as an upperclassman with an off-campus apartment, which can be a powerful place to be!

Here are some tips if you happen to be hosting or attending a party:

Be on the look-out for perpetrator behavior and remember that most sexual assaults follow a similar pattern:
  • Intention (“I am going to have sex tonight no matter what”)
  • Targeting (Getting “tunnel vision” on a person, picking someone particularly vulnerable)
  • Grooming (Compliments, gaining trust, continuing to feed someone drinks
  •  Boundary testing (any form of physical touch to gauge a reaction, “how far can I get”)
  •  Isolating (separating that person from their friends, getting them alone)
  •  Minimizing (the next day, generally - “It wasn’t that big of a deal. You were so drunk” etc)
  •  Covering-up (This can look many different ways, but any behavior that tries to mask what really happened)

Remember that just because someone is exhibiting one or two of these behaviors does not mean that a sexual assault will occur. As we know, in the crowded setting of a party, we all only get a snapshot of the events of an evening - however, if you see some of these behaviors unfolding and you feel uncomfortable with the situation, here are some subtle ways you can intervene:

  •  If you don’t know the people involved, try to locate some friends of the involved parties and alert them to the situation.
  • Put on a popular song (Beyonce?) that you know everyone will sing to. This could give a person an opportunity to escape an uncomfortable situation.
  • Approach the person you are concerned about and ask them to go to the bathroom with you, play beer pong with you, or go get food with you. If the accept, great  - if they decline and seem happy to be talking to that person, also fine.
  • Spilling a drink may be a party foul in most settings, but if you are trying to intervene, it can be a great way to provide a distraction and potentially give someone a chance to leave an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
It’s important to be conscious of your own comfort level when intervening - if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe doing any of these techniques, you can always seek out the help of a professional bystander, such as BCPD or the Boston Police, to provide support. Also, don’t forget that SANet (617-552-2211), BC’s 24-hour sexual assault response hotline, can be a great resource - whether you or a friend experiences an assault or if you just have questions surrounding campus sexual assault.

Being an upperclassman with your own apartment can be an amazing time, but it also comes with it’s own set of challenges and responsibilities. As a more seasoned member of our community, you hold a lot of power! If an underclassman sees you modeling good active bystander behavior, they will be more likely to exhibit that behavior themselves. Intervening only takes a few moments, but the effects could be enormous. 

If you have any additional questions about the Bystander Intervention program or about the Women’s Center in general, please do not hesitate to email us at bystand@bc.edu or stop by the Women’s Center at 441 Maloney Hall!  

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