Ray Epstein sat down on March 12 to read “Boys and Sex” by Peggy Orenstein which was assigned for her Sex Crimes and the Law class. The book’s scenes, which mentions how a male views their role as a “hero” being a bystander, made her stop for a moment and reflect on the importance of education surrounding bystander intervention and survivor support.
“It’s a difficult situation to be in and I think simulating those situations which will occur is really, really important because people don’t usually take the step ahead. In their mind to consider what bystander intervention really entails,” said Ray Epstein, president and founder of Student Activists Against Sexual Assault, an organization that advocates against sexual violence while creating a safe space for students.
The book re-emphasized the training that students and SAASA members received just days later about how to provide support for survivors of sexual assault, Epstein said.
Students, including members of SAASA, gathered in Mitten Hall Wednesday evening for a two-hour training about bystander intervention and survivor support. The presentation was given by Adrianna Branin, the assistant director of trainings from It’s On Us, an organization that aims to address and educate university students on sexual assault awareness.
The training comes at a time when more than 90 percent of sexual violence on United States college campuses go unreported, Branin said at the event.
“We understand that with prevalence rates this high and with reporting rates that are so incredibly low,” Branin said. “It is so, so important to understand prevention, to be aware of these issues, and have an understanding of how you can deescalate harm when you come in contact with it.”
Branin advised students on actions and precautions to take if they are bystanders to incidents of sexual assault. She suggested starting a random conversation, singing or doing something out of the ordinary that could interrupt possible incidents. Branin also reminded students to contact the police if a situation escalates.
“I think the big takeaway is that everyone can intervene, even if it’s not as direct or confrontational as saying ‘Stop that,’” said Student Body President Gianni Quattrocchi, who attended the event. “And I think it shows that everyone can do their part in whatever way works best for them to prevent sexual assault.”
Branin then discussed how students can support someone who has experienced sexual assault.
It’s important for the person providing support to show that they believe the survivor and will address any of their needs, like accompanying them to the hospital to receive a rape kit. Branin also encouraged students to consult a professional if they cannot address a particular need.
Brendan McEvoy, a sophomore criminal justice major who attended the event, said he gained new insight on how to support a sexual assault survivor.
“One thing that was said was don’t like demonize the perpetrator,” McEvoy said. “Which obviously like that’s something, if a survivor is coming to you, that might be a gut instinct, reaction, to demonize like the person whoever like harmed your friend, but obviously, that’s what I learned today was sometimes that’s not the best case scenario and just to support and believe the survivor is the most important thing.”
Supporters should also ensure to make time for their own self care while helping a survivor, Branin said.
“Self care is the act of doing an activity you personally enjoy in order to preserve your mind and your body. In the field of sexual violence whether you’re a student that’s working on sexual violence or somebody like me, self care is especially important to remember to fit into our schedules,” Branin said.
SAASA and It’s On Us are encouraging students to learn more about sexual assault prevention through attending their events and hope that these trainings become a requirement for incoming freshmen and students throughout the university.
Branin ended her presentation with words of encouragement, thanks and support. It’s important for all people to learn proper bystander intervention to support survivors or even prevent acts of sexual assault, Branin said after her presentation.
“[The major takeaway is] that anyone, regardless of their background, of their experience with these topics, is able to actively do something to prevent harm in their community,” Branin said.