Responding to and preventing men's sexual violence against women
Bystander approaches seek to build shared individual and community responsibility for responding to and preventing sexual violence by encouraging people not directly involved in violence as a victim or perpetrator to take action. As such, they potentially have a key role to play in challenging cultures of violence and gender inequality.
Many Australian violence education and prevention programs already include some bystander elements, such as how to care for a friend who has experienced violence, or what to do when witnessing or becoming aware of an incident of violence against women.
Individuals are most likely to take positive action to respond to or prevent violence when they feel supported to do so by their peers, communities, and organisations (such as schools and workplaces), when they feel confident in their ability to take action, and when they perceive that their action will make a positive difference.
Individual bystander action requires noticing the situation; interpreting the event as requiring intervention; assuming responsibility; deciding how to help; and confidence in the capacity to help (Darley & Latane, 1968).
Bystander action is often promoted as an effective way of engaging non-violent men in challenging violence against women in their peer groups and communities. While there is much international research literature examining the barriers and facilitators to bystander action, and several program models well evaluated in the United States, bystander approaches for responding to and preventing sexual violence against women are far less developed in Australia. Australian research, policy and programs are increasingly focused on harnessing bystander action as part of a holistic plan to address and prevent violence against women, including sexual violence. Yet there are some unresolved challenges and issues in their implementation.
Authors and Acknowledgements
Dr Anastasia Powell is lecturer in Justice & Legal Studies at RMIT University. Her research specialises in policy and prevention of violence against women. Most recently, Anastasia has worked with VicHealth and the Social Research Centre on the research report, More than Ready: Bystander Action to Prevent Violence Against Women.
Powell, A. (2014). Bystander approaches: Responding to and preventing men's sexual violence against women (ACSSA Issues No. 17). Melbourne: Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
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