Bringing In Bystanders To Stop Campus Assaults One out of five women will be sexually assaulted during her college years. The University of New Hampshire has a novel approach to prevention: bringing in bystanders, encouraging them to speak up and intervene before an assault.
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Bringing In Bystanders To Stop Campus Assaults

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Bringing In Bystanders To Stop Campus Assaults

Bringing In Bystanders To Stop Campus Assaults

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Over the past two weeks, you may have heard a series on NPR about sexual violence on campus that uncovered some disturbing numbers. One out of five college women become victims of sexual assault, only 5 percent report it. Nine of 10 are committed by a repeat offender. And colleges and universities expel fewer than one in four of the men found responsible.

And while much of the series focused on institutional response after the fact, we wanted to follow up today on a project that hopes to prevent sexual assault by asking bystanders to take a more active role. Among other things, they've developed a series of posters to encourage bystander intervention. You can see some of those posters through our link at, just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we want to hear from you. If you've been involved in the issue of sexual assault on campus, if you've been a bystander, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us:

The Bringing in The Bystander project is led by the University of New Hampshire with funds from among others the Department of Justice. UNH Sociology Professor Sharyn Potter is among the project leaders, and she joins us now from the studios of New Hampshire Public Radio in Concorde. Nice to have you with us on the program today.

Professor SHARYN POTTER (Sociology, University of New Hampshire): It's nice to be here, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: And I'm looking at one of the posters used in your social media campaign. It's got three men talking with their friend, Jeff. Can you describe it for our listeners what message you hope it sends?

Prof. POTTER: Yes. It's one of the eight images in our Know Your Power social marketing campaign. And what we're trying to do is model how students can be active bystanders. And there's a student whose face that you don't see and he's bragging about one of his friends' conquests. He said, my friend, Jeff, is the man. He got this girl passed out drunk and then nailed her.

In the middle of the three men having lunch together, you see a active bystander who says, you've got to be kidding. Your friend raped her. And then the other friend who's looking on says, your friend's pathetic. So the message is know your power, step in, speak up. And we really want to label these behaviors as rape.

CONAN: Where did you get the dialogue for those balloons?

Prof. POTTER: That's a great question. We have a media workgroup at -this is the first of - there's eight images and they were designed by a group of faculty staff and students. These are experiences that students have had. And after we come up with scenarios, we go into the resident halls. I go at nine o'clock with pizza and candy and soda, and we ask students, what do you think? When this happen to you, how would you handle the situation?

We've had over input from over 500 students in the creation of these eight images. So these are really their experiences. Whether or not in some of the experiences they might not have been a bystander, but then we talked about how could you have been an engaged or active bystander in the story you're telling?

CONAN: Yet, you'd think a lot of college students, a lot of guys would be reluctant to intervene?

Prof. POTTER: Absolutely. And we talk about this a lot, that when there's something going on, a bystander, in determining whether or not they want to engage, they kind of run in their heads through a numerical calculation, cost-benefit calculation, if you would. They're worried about their social status, right, these are 18- to 24-year-old men.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. POTTER: They're worried about being labeled as a snitch, worrying about retaliation, and also their own physical safety. We - just in our - in the person prevention program and in our social marketing campaign, we stress the importance of intervening only if you are a person of - if you can do it in a way that will keep yourself personally safe.

CONAN: Only if you can keep yourself personally safe. But that psychological barrier, of not wanting to rat out a frat brother, a friend, even another guy in campus.

Prof. POTTER: Absolutely. And - but what we feel like is really powerful about these posters is that there are men, who are talking to their peers and labeling the incidents as sexual assault, as rape.

CONAN: And I wonder if there is more information out there. I was startled to learn that nine in 10 of campus rapes are committed by repeat offenders. In other words, this is - it's not a one-off situation. It's generally a serial rapist. And if more bystanders understood, you're not just intervening in this situation, there are other situations in the future you could affect.

Prof. POTTER: Absolutely. And you're talking about Professor David Lisak, who I know that Joe Shapiro interviewed. And our work builds on the work of David Lisak and his colleagues in that we believe that it's the community's responsibility to prevent sexual violence, and all members of the community need to speak up and step in. And, in a way, it's a move from the more traditional prevention programs where we look at all men as potential perpetrators and all women as potential victims.

And with the Bringing in the Bystander in-person program and social marketing campaign, is we're saying sexual violence is a problem in our community. And it takes all of us to work together and to be active bystanders, engaged bystanders, if you will, to reduce the problem.

CONAN: Joe Shapiro who, of course, listeners are familiar with from this program and other NPR programs, was the reporter on this series. If you'd like to hear his reports, go to And you can find more about the series and some of the findings. In the meantime, we'd like to speak with those of you who may have been bystanders in a sexual assault situation on a campus. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: Melissa is with us from Yulee in Florida.

MELISSA (Caller): Yes. I was with a group of girlfriends, and we were going to a local campus hangout. And my friend started feeling dizzy, and more so than the one drink that she had had. And she went into the bathroom. Before that, there was a man trying to intervene, trying to help her, if you will. And we had made a plan that we would take care of each other, that one would be a designated driver and followed her into the bathroom. She was completely unable to react. And we ended up taking care of her and taking her home and figured out that it was probably -she had been slipped a GHB or some type of drug (unintelligible)...

CONAN: The date rape drug, as it's known.


CONAN: The date rape drug, as it's known.

MELISSA: Yes, it is - gamma-hydroxybutyrate.

CONAN: And you may have saved her.

MELISSA: Pardon me?

CONAN: You may have saved your friend.

MELISSA: Yeah. I think that we were all looking out for each other. And when we do that, we have a safety plan, we have an agreement. You don't leave with somebody strange. We are going to take care of each other, women or men, and go out and have that responsibility, that kind of responsibility for each other.

CONAN: Hmm. That's a great message, Melissa, and a great lesson. Thanks very much for the phone call.

MELISSA: Thank you.

CONAN: And it's important to know, Sharyn Potter, not just men who need to be active bystanders.

Prof. POTTER: Absolutely. And one of our slogans on one of the posters is friends watch out for one another, especially when there's alcohol involved. And Melissa, your friend was so lucky to have you that night. And we encourage people, both men and women, to go out and take care of each other, just as we did in the '80s with the drinking and driving public awareness ads.

CONAN: Well, drinking is certainly involved in a lot of these situations, too. In one of the NPR reports last week, Joe Shapiro interviewed a woman who had been raped at a college, and she describes how her attackers led her away from where she wanted to go, and no one stepped in to help her.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

MARGAUX: That night when I left the fraternity, I was very intoxicated and these two men were going to walk me to a party. And they started walking the wrong direction, and I said, you know, it's the other way. And they said, oh, we're just stopping by his apartment quick. And I said, okay, you know, thinking it's, you know, a few houses away. And I'm drunk, I'm very drunk - it's the second time we drunk. I'm not a big woman, and I know I've had over seven shots. And, you know, one of them is helping me and I get up - caught up in a conversation with him, and then I realized we're going really, really far away.

CONAN: And that's a situation where, clearly, there were an awful lot of people in between those houses who saw - might have seen what was going on.

Prof. POTTER: Absolutely. And, again, what we know from the research is that if people are less willing - they make the calculation we spoke about - and they're much less willing to intervene if they don't know the victim. And, unfortunately, we know that what - people are more likely to intervene if they know the victim. So we're trying to change that culture and really reiterate the fact that these situations are all of our responsibilities, and we all need to intervene, even if it's not us confronting the perpetrator. We can always call 911 very easily in this day with all the cell phones.

CONAN: Let's go next to Christine, Christine calling us from Davenport, Iowa.

CHRISTINE (Caller): Yes. I was raped in college by a boy who was on a sports team. And it was the first month of the freshman year, and I didn't know the reputation of that sports team. But I believe his suitemates knew what was going on, and they never did anything.

CONAN: And did you ever report this?

CHRISTINE: I didn't. I was afraid of not being believed and, you know, I didn't. I was 18 and scared, but I did go on to get my master's and become a rape counselor. And so I have seen lots and lots of young women, particularly - occasionally a young man - fall into situations where if someone who suspected something was going on could have come forward and prevented a very unfortunate event.

CONAN: Because, I was going to say, if you don't get counseling - even if you don't report it - but if you don't get counseling, this is something that could bother you for the rest of your life.

CHRISTINE: Oh, absolutely. And I've worked with women in their 40's who were raped as children or teenagers that are just coming to grips with it because they finally got up enough nerve to go in for counseling.

CONAN: Christine, thanks very much for sharing your story. I know that was difficult.

CHRISTINE: Oh, thank you so much.

CONAN: I appreciate it. Bye-bye.


CONAN: And that's something else that comes up so often, Sharyn Potter, in these stories, the feeling of the women, that they were somehow responsible for this - either because they were drugged or somehow that this was their own fault - and they don't report it. Ninety-five percent do not report it.

Prof. POTTER: Absolutely. And, again, this is - the perpetrator is being camouflaged by his friends, right? They're having the party with the alcohol. They're setting it up. They're buying the alcohol so - and the perpetrators use these parties to target and rape their victims. And these perpetrators are not, like the 15 percent that we think about who, you know, who jump out of the bush with the winter hat. These are people that we go to school with every day, we see every day. And so - and it's the culture that - the pervasive culture that condones the violence against women that just lets the perpetrators continue to perpetrate over and over again.

CONAN: And the woman who is the victim then has to see that person on campus the rest of that year, maybe the rest of the next four years.

Prof. POTTER: Right. And also, Christine brought up a really important point, is - part of our funding is for the - from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like you said, too, Neal, sexual violence is a public health issue. We know that women who are raped, you know, suffer big setbacks in both their educational and occupational attainments. They suffer a number of health problems. And over their life, they can often deal with the myriad of relationship issues. So there's a number of things, you know, that all kind of makes this a huge problem.

CONAN: We're talking with Sharyn Potter from the University of New Hampshire, which is engaged in a program called Bringing in the Bystander. It's a project that is funded by, among others, as she mentioned, the Centers for Disease Control and the Department for -Department of Justice.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And I have to ask you, Sharyn Potter, it's an important program to go and find out information and produce these posters. Do you really think posters are going to have an effect?

Prof. POTTER: That's a really great question. The four of us who work on the Bringing in the Bystander in-person prevention program and the social marketing campaign, we're all researchers by training. And we have done a number of evaluations of both the in-person program and the poster campaign.

And the poster campaign is - we're running it for a six-week period. In addition to posters being plastered all over campus, in the back of bathroom stalls, in the residence halls, in the academic buildings, we have the whole sides of buses with our images. We're on all the university computers. When the students log in, they see us. We're on the dining hall (unintelligible). So we're really bombarding them for six weeks.

And what we've learned from our research is that students who identify with the folks in the posters who say this: Look. These people look like me. These are situations I've been in. You know, this is the wording I would use - are more likely the report that they have increased their awareness of the problems with sexual violence and more likely to indicate that they would be comfortable being a bystander.

CONAN: How will you measure success or failure?

Prof. POTTER: We do a pretest prior to the launch of the campaign, and then we take the campaign down and we do a posttest. But before we got to this point, we've done a number of studies - to study the effectiveness of this. And the in-person prevention program, we've actually had control and experimental groups where we have been able to show that students who go through the program have increased their awareness of the problems of sexual violence and have even reported much higher rates of - of engaged bystanding behavior.

CONAN: Let's get Samantha on the line. Samantha's calling us from San Antonio.

SAMANTHA (Caller): Yes. I was wondering if you guys ever thought about extending this to high school. I was raped as a sophomore in high school, thanks to my boyfriend slipping me a drug and selling me to his friend.

CONAN: I hope former boyfriend.


CONAN: Okay. I'm so sorry to hear that, Samantha. Well, this is just at the University of New Hampshire right now, isn't it, Sharyn?

Prof. POTTER: We're at the University of New Hampshire, and then we -the in-person prevention program and the social marketing campaign has been adopted at about 35 - and each of them has been adopted at about 35 different institutions across the country.

CONAN: And would you expand it to high schools?

Prof. POTTER: Yes. And we - absolutely. And that adolescence period, where high school students and college students - they're just so vulnerable. They're in these new social scenes. They're meeting new people. They also have the luxury of not having the responsibilities of people in their late 20s. But this makes them incredibly vulnerable.

CONAN: Samantha, how are you doing?

SAMANTHA: I'm feeling good. And thanks to that incident, I now want to be a sex crimes detective for a police department.

CONAN: Good luck to you, Samantha.

SAMANTHA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Prof. POTTER: Bye.

CONAN: Here's an email that we have from James in South Bend. I was a bystander at a party I hosted a couple of years ago, when I noticed a guy slipped a pill into a girl's drink. My friends and I realized what had happened and stopped the girl from the drinking the beverage. We approached the guy and apprehended him. Unfortunately, we were violent against him when we should have, in retrospect, called the police. But we did not know what to do. We were juniors in college. No one ever told students what exactly to do in those situations, and our emotions took over at the time.

And that's a cautionary tale, as well.

Prof. POTTER: Absolutely. And we always - we want bystanders, again, to be engaged and active, but we also want them to consider their personal safety.

CONAN: Thank you...

Prof. POTTER: And that's a great point.

CONAN: Thank you, Sharyn Potter, for being with us today. We appreciate your time.

Prof. POTTER: Thank you so much for having me.

CONAN: Sharyn Potter works at the Bringing in the Bystander project at the University of New Hampshire, with us today from the studios at New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord.

If you missed any of the NPR news series on campus assault, you can go to our Web site to learn more about the investigation, listen to the pieces in the series and join the conversation. Go to Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. Ira Flatow will be here with a look at how brain signals can be used to reconstruct hand movement - plus, dinosaur evolution and ABCs of earthquakes. Have a great weekend. We'll talk to you again on Monday.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

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