Chapel Hill: Opinion

Eyerusalem Tessema: Bystander Intervention for a safer Carolina

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be victim of sexual assault during her college years. Such alarming statistics has negative physical, emotional and mental impact on victims of sexual assaults.

The high occurrence rate is absolutely puzzling and completely unacceptable. Universities like UNC have an obligation to ensure safety of all of their students regardless of their sex, gender, religious background and sexual orientation. No student should feel unsafe or become a victim of sexual assault.

So, what exactly has UNC done recently to prevent sexual assaults from happening?

UNC has changed two important things within the past year. The university has changed the “no means no” consent policy into a “yes means yes” consent policy. Additionally, all incoming first years are now required to complete a 45 minute online HAVEN training on bystander intervention. First years are not allowed to successfully enroll and begin their classes until they complete this training.

While UNC is making great strides towards a safer Carolina, the current 45 minute HAVEN training on bystander intervention is not enough to give students the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to prevent sexual assaults on campus. Successful bystander intervention trainings such as One Act at UNC and Green Dot (a leader in bystander intervention training) all include training of at least four hours.

Bystander intervention teaches students strategies to prevent interpersonal violence. The training enables students to be more alert in social situations and it provides them with skills to take action and interrupt a potential sexual assault from occurring.

We have all at some point used some of these strategies without realizing the formal name for the intervention. You might have asked if your friend who looks uncomfortable with a guy wants to go get water with you or have accidentally spilled a drink near someone to create a distraction long enough to separate a friend from a potential bad situation. These are examples of a bystander intervention.

UNC’s current 45 minute bystander intervention training however can be problematic. Good-intentioned students who don’t have adequate knowledge and training can put themselves in danger when trying to intervene. The training also does not directly address how to prevent sexual assaults from happening in dorms. According to the Department of Public Safety’s 2013 report, approximately one in three forcible sex offenses at UNC occurred in residence halls. Therefore, successful training needs to also address sexual assault in residence halls.

UNC needs to pass a new policy mandating that all Resident Advisors (RAs) get bystander intervention training. UNC already has an established One Act training that has been around for over four years. This One Act training can to be tailored specifically for RAs so they help prevent sexual assault from happening in dorms and also provide direct resources to residents.

RAs are located at every one of the 32 residence halls located across campus. Their sheer number and strategic location gives them power to impact a great majority of students. Training RAs is not only going to be great in directly preventing sexual assault from happening in residence halls but it will also facilitate discussions surrounding interpersonal violence across campus which can create change in campus norms.

There is already a working partnership between UNC Housing and Residential Education and Student Wellness. RAs get sexual assault response training and training on the new consent policy over the summer. This partnership should now include the new One Act for RAs training to also be completed in the summer.

Together we can build a safer Carolina. It will take an active UNC administration to say enough is enough and act to prevent sexual assaults from happening in the first place instead of reacting to sexual assault cases and negative national attention. UNC has already made great strides, so we should build on this momentum and facilitate a heavier prevention strategy. It will only take the willingness and active collaboration of UNC Administration, UNC Housing and Residential Education and Student Wellness to be one step closer to building a safer Carolina for all. After all, it is not only the obligation of UNC to ensure safety of its students but it is simply the right thing to do.

Eyerusalem Tessema is a graduate student in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.