The #MeToo movement has begun to shift the way we talk about sexual assault and harassment. Each survivor’s story and every new allegation reinforce the magnitude of a problem that’s always been there: according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men in the U.S. experience sexual violence during their lifetime.
While alcohol doesn’t cause violence – behaviors and social norms rooted in power and control do – it can be a risk factor associated with sexual assault. It’s important that we consider the role we can play in preventing sexual violence, especially when we are out with friends at bars or parties.
While the majority of people do not commit sexual assault, many people may be bystanders to warning signs. Unwanted physical contact, intrusion of personal space, and testing a person’s reaction to sexual comments or “jokes” are all red flags a bystander can observe. Pressuring someone to get drunk or trying to isolate them from their friends are other observable behaviors that could lead to an assault.
If you see these types of concerning behaviors, you may not know exactly how to respond. If you’re shy, don’t like confrontation, or are unsure of what you’re witnessing, you may be hesitant to act. Luckily, there are lots of bystander intervention techniques which can give you options to help overcome these barriers. A few strategies for use in public spaces, such as a bar or restaurant:
- If someone seems uncomfortable, check in. Catch them in the bathroom or on the way to get a drink and ask if they’re doing ok.
- Create a distraction to diffuse a potentially violent situation. “Accidentally” spill a drink or interrupt and ask someone to take a photo. It may give you or others a chance to separate them and check in.
- Intervene as a group. Speak up when you sense something is wrong and ask a few friends to help you out.
- Enlist the help of someone else. The bartender or bouncer may be in a position to address the situation in ways that you don’t feel safe doing.
- If you can’t figure out what to do immediately, stay close by. You may be able to monitor the situation and find an opportunity to intervene later.
Always trust your gut and don’t risk your own safety – call for help when you need it.
We can also take action before we ever see these concerning behaviors. Talk to your friends about bystander intervention strategies so you’re on the same page when you go out together. Call out violent or sexist jokes, “catcalls,” and objectifying language – doing so helps to shift our culture to one where sexual assault is simply not tolerated. Never underestimate the power of a bystander! Oftentimes when one person steps in, others will follow suit.
For information and support for anyone impacted by sexual violence or to learn more about sexual assault prevention, visit www.thecenteronline.org.
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