Embracing Digital Bystander Intervention

By Nora Draper, Ph.D

14438751348_d066f99ac0_o

This past week, a horrific story highlighted the complicated relationship between social media, sexual assault, and bystander intervention. An 18-year old Ohio woman has been indicted on multiple charges, including rape and distribution of sexual materials involving a minor, for broadcasting the rape of another young woman with the live-streaming app Periscope.

Mobile app Periscope allows people to stream real-time video to viewers around the world. This use of Periscope to broadcast an incident of sexual assault is a recent example of social media platforms being used to facilitate and publicize abuse. Stories about cyberbullying, revenge porn, and fraping (taking over someone’s social media profile without their knowledge or consent), show how digital and mobile tools have the potential to enable online harassment. Despite the qualifier “digital” or “cyber,” the consequences of digital harassment almost always cross the largely artificial boundaries between the online and offline worlds.

Certainly, digital platforms have the potential to facilitate anti-social and even illegal behaviors. The story above, however, calls attention to the important and often overlooked ways that social media tools can be—and often are—deployed to support positive practices. In an act of digital bystander intervention, a viewer who saw the Periscope feed reportedly contacted authorities to report the rape. As prevention campaigns turn their attention to the role bystanders can play by intervening to deter or stop sexual assault, there is an opportunity to rethink how digital and mobile technologies are already used as tools for intervention, and incorporate these strategies into intervention campaigns. Indeed, as Communication researcher Carrie Rentschler has recently written, online bystanders can themselves be culpable in the perpetration of digital violence.

Smartphones, which are in the pockets of 85% of young adults, are often seen as encouraging frivolous behavior. Such framing, however, ignores smartphones’ empowering potential as tools for media production and accessing information. Given the ubiquity of these devices, it is essential that bystander intervention campaigns begin to focus on how these tools can turn witnessing into digital and mobile action.

Digital bystander intervention need not be exclusively the kind of crisis intervention witnessed in the story above. Bystander intervention programs, such as the University of New Hampshire’s Bringing in the Bystander ® In-Person Prevention Program, focus on the need for intervention along the spectrum of abuse, from microaggressions to sexual violence. The digital environment is full of opportunities for intervention. From the comments sections under news articles to social media pages, there are myriad platforms for small forms of digital bystander intervention. The types of intervention often marginalized as slacktivism— actions such as voting down sexist content, flagging harassing posts for review, and posting supportive comments—all have the potential to support a growing culture of digital intervention.


Nora_Draper_HeadshotNora Draper, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of New Hampshire. Her research examines the complexities of authenticity, privacy, identity, and reputation in the digital era through frames of cultural theory, critical institutionalism, and public policy. Her work explores how identity, particularly gender, race, class, and sexuality, shape experiences of privacy, surveillance, and visibility in a digital environment. Her work has been published in the International Journal of Communication, Critical Studies in Media Communication, the Journal of Children and Media, and Surveillance & Society.

Advertisements

Remembering Mass Rape During Sexual Assault Awareness Month

By Nicole Fox, Ph.D.

IMG_1374

Photos of Rwandan genocide victims hang in Kigali Memorial Center; Image courtesy of the author, Kigali, Rwanda 2012. 

Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the terrorist group ISIS for the violent acts they have committed in Iraq and Syria, noting that this violence constitutes what the United Nations considers genocide.  Furthermore, France’s Minister for Family, Women, and Children’s Rights described the atrocities committed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria as femicide.  The World Health Organization defines femicide as the intentional killing, rape, and torture of women. Feminist author Diana Russell narrows the definition of femicide to “the killing of females by males because they are female,” a bold statement drawing attention to the gendered relationship between perpetrator and victim in sexual violence and the killing of women.

April marks a month of awareness and memory.  In April we pledge to become “aware” of sexual assault: an experience that is reported by 300,000 people, mostly women and girls, every year. Many women across the globe fear sexual violence in April—like every other month of the year— and they perform daily rituals to prevent sexual assault (to learn about macro level prevention visit PIRC’s homepage).

April is a month of awareness in the US and a month of memory across the globe. Annually, April 7th marks the start of a 100-day mourning period commemorating the 1994 Rwandan genocide. During the Rwandan genocide, an estimated 250,000 women were raped, and the majority of survivors of female genocide are either survivors or witnesses of gender-based violence, with many suffering multiple rapes. After many of the men were killed in the early phases of the genocide, the rape and murder of girls and women were commanded by the highest-ranking officials. Genocidal rape and gender-based violence have been documented in every prefecture of Rwanda, victimizing women and girls of all ages, including infants and older adults.

For my research on memorials and reconciliation in post-Genocide Rwanda, I had the honor of interviewing survivors, including many survivors of genocidal rape. Women noted that rape was the rule during the genocide rather than the exception, and that prior to the genocide Rwanda was experiencing economic turmoil. This turmoil made it difficult for men to find work, so when genocide propaganda began, the genocidal campaign presented killing and rape as “work.”  Survivors described how women were demonized, sexualized, and dehumanized prior to the start of the genocide, creating a climate of rampant sexual violence.  In the aftermath, women still suffer over two decades later, and survivors experience significant trauma, severe poverty, and health challenges such as HIV/AIDS.

So what can we make of this month of April—a month of sexual assault awareness, a month for remembrance of genocidal rape, and a month when femicide and sexual violence continues to occur across the globe? I believe it is important to remember that all of these cases are connected. Sexual violence on college campuses is eerily similar to sexual violence during political conflicts. Rape is so rampant globally because we live in a world in which women are devalued economically, emotionally, intellectually, politically, and ultimately physically. Rape takes place within a globalized patriarchal supremacist culture and cannot be disentangled from this context; while the specifics of the environment in which rape occurs do vary, the devaluation of its victims does not. How else might we explain the silence about and tolerance for such brutal acts to such a large portion of our world’s population?


Fox_220

Nicole Fox, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the sociology department and PIRC member.  She received her doctorate in sociology from Brandeis University.  She researches how communities recover after mass violence paying particular attention to how gender based violence shapes reconciliation efforts and participation.  Her most recent research has focused on post-genocide Rwanda and how survivors of genocide and genocidal rape have rebuilt their lives in the aftermath of such destruction.  Her scholarship has been published in Journal for Scientific Study of Religion, Societies without borders, and the International Journal of Sociology of the Family.

National Campus Prevention and Policy: Title IX+ in Action

By Jill Dunlap

college

[Photo Source]

The news about sexual violence on campus can seem dire and often overwhelming to parents, current and potential students, and campus administrators. It seems that every day a new study is released about campus sexual violence, its prevalence, and the culture that perpetuates it.[1] While it might seem easier to hide under the covers and never read the news again, it is important to recognize the good that has come from the increased attention to campus sexual violence. In fact, April is the best time to look around and appreciate all of the new and innovative sexual violence prevention and awareness programming taking place on college campuses. A mere five years ago, campus sexual violence prevention was likely the responsibility of a part-time prevention educator or student groups on campus who put on well-intentioned and perhaps sporadic prevention programs for students. With the new requirements under VAWA, and the more prominent role of Title IX coordinators in addressing hostile environments related to sexual violence, prevention programming has moved to the top of the priority list on many colleges. The greatest hope I feel is when I see campuses going beyond meeting the requirements to provide incoming students with prevention programs and developing multi-pronged prevention programs that span a student’s entire career on campus. Many campuses have well-developed strategic plans for sexual violence prevention programming. Other campuses have moved beyond defining VAWA crimes for students, and are training students on how to respond to disclosures by their peers and get them connected to resources. Prevention programming is increasingly evidence-informed and is moving away from single, one-hour interventions that happen only during orientation.

We are beginning to see the results of these efforts. This week, University of Connecticut released the results of a campus survey on sexual violence that found, among other things, that 55% of respondents knew how to report an incident of sexual violence and knew the confidential resources available to them. Surveys on other campuses have also indicated that more students are aware of their Title IX rights. While these results may speak more to awareness rather than a decline in the prevalence of sexual violence, they are telling us that students are absorbing the messages delivered via prevention programming on campus.

The other good news is that parents and students now have another measure to inform their decisions about where to attend college. Potential students can still look to Clery Act numbers to assess safety, but they can also look to the comprehensive prevention programming campuses provide—including who provides the programming, how often, and the types of programs campuses are providing.

Finally, the good news for campuses is that they are not alone in efforts to prevent sexual violence. This spring alone, at least three separate federal grant solicitations through the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, the Centers for Disease Control and the Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health were available to help campuses develop and assess the effectiveness of sexual violence prevention programs.

The problem clearly has not been fixed, and sexual violence on campus remains a major concern for parents, students and administrators. But, there is hope that the issue is being taken seriously and that campuses are finding innovative ways to prevent sexual violence on campus. Do not let April pass you by without taking part in sexual violence prevention programming on your campus or in your community. Sexual violence impacts every one of us. This issue belongs to all of us and we all play a part in preventing and addressing sexual violence on our campuses and in our communities.

[1] Lindo, J. M., Siminski, P. M., & Swensen, I. D. (2015). College Party Culture and Sexual Assault (No. w21828). National Bureau of Economic Research.


JillDunlap_Headshot_800x800 (1)Jill Dunlap is the Director for Equity, Inclusion, and Violence Prevention at NASPA. She is not only a PIRC friend, but she also served on the Violence Against Women Act Campus SaVE federal negotiated rulemaking committee with the Department of Education in 2014. Her work with that committee assisted in creating guidelines for campuses to follow when complying with new federal regulations on sexual assault, dating and domestic violence and stalking prevention and response. Jill’s work experience also includes having written and managed three Department of Justice Grants with the Office on Violence Against Women, all of which focused on funding campus-based advocates to assist student survivors. In addition, Jill is proud of her substantial work with community survivors through her commitment to volunteer work for local rape crisis agencies and domestic violence shelters for the past 12 years.

Addressing “Revenge Porn” Using a Community Approach

By LB Klein, MSW

[Left Photo Source & Right Photo Source]

“Revenge porn” is a colloquialism for the non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit still or moving images with the intention of causing harm. It is a form of sexual violence commonly used as a tactic by a perpetrator of harassment, intimate partner violence, and stalking to harm the victim. The images may originally have been taken with or without consent, may originally have been consensually shared with a partner, or stolen via hacking of a personal computer or phone. The “revenge porn” is then posted publicly, often on websites, and sometimes with the victim’s contact information, social media sites, or address, so that the victim can be further harassed and humiliated.

There are two commonly proposed solutions for “revenge porn.” The first is the idea that people should just stop taking nude photos of themselves. This solution blames victims and shames people, usually women, for their sexuality and provides no solution for the problem of gender-based violence. The issue with “revenge porn” is the lack of consent in the distribution of the images, not in the existence of the images themselves. The violation is not the existence of bodies or people seeing them but in who decides who can share the images (victims have not participated in the decision or agreed to share images or personal information), the intention for sharing the images (i.e., retaliation or punishment) and the perpetrators’, usually men, effective tactic of leveraging patriarchy to shame their women partners as “revenge.”

The second proposed solution is turning to the criminal legal system. While less victim-blaming, this is often quite ineffective. “Revenge porn” is a psychologically and sexually abusive form of violence that relies on community shaming. While 27 states currently have laws against “revenge porn”  and seventeen more are drafting legislation, “revenge porn”— like many other forms of gender-based violence—is rarely addressed in a timely or fulfilling manner by the criminal legal system, and victims are often left to face increased stigma without recourse. There are people who will never feel safe turning to the police or the courts for help, even if those avenues are improved. Simply making “revenge porn” illegal is but one step toward true prevention and intervention.

Here are four areas outside of introducing new legislation or advocating for risk reduction that can be leveraged to address “revenge porn.”

  1. Increase the capacity of sexual and domestic violence service providers to raise awareness about “revenge porn”.

It is vital that advocates and counselors learn more about the nature and dynamics of “revenge porn” so that they can identify the behavior and possible remedies. As these providers are already working these issues, they can also raise awareness that “revenge porn” is a form of gender-based violence and that its victims deserve support.

  1. Increase public education and awareness without shaming victims.

Due to recent media attention, there is increased awareness that “revenge porn” is happening, but the sensationalism and emphasis on legal intervention does not inspire the public to take responsibility. Educational efforts should focus on what community members can do to aid in prevention by avoiding “revenge porn” websites, shaming websites that host nonconsensually-shared images, and providing support to friends who are targeted through “revenge porn.”

  1. Include discussion of “revenge porn” in bystander intervention programs.

Bystander intervention is a powerful prevention strategy that centers on seeing all members of the community as a part of the solution for ending violence. These programs should include examples of “revenge porn” alongside other forms of interpersonal violence. These programs can emphasize the need for perpetrator accountability and the power of prosocial bystanders to shift the culture that emboldens “revenge porn” perpetrators.

  1. Engage with leaders in the technology field to develop innovative solutions.

While “revenge porn” is simply a form of gender-based violence facilitated using new technology, social media and the idea are relevant points of consideration when uncovering solutions. Technological interventions might make it harder for abusers to disseminate “revenge porn” or might help survivors quickly get images taken down.

“Revenge porn” is a new manifestation of a pervasive endemic public health issue: gender-based violence. It relies on a patriarchal culture in which even well-meaning individuals abdicate responsibility. This leads to the perpetuation of the myth that criminal and civil legal systems work to provide justice and restoration to victims, or that further shaming and limiting the sexualities of women are effective prevention strategies. Because these are false promises, we must consider new solutions that are rooted in communities, address power and privilege, promote education, empower bystanders, and use innovative technological practices. Only through leveraging interdisciplinary expertise and listening to what survivors really want will we see a shift away from a culture that enables “revenge porn” and excuses those who host and post it.


LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. In that role, she builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this Fall.

Why Don’t Survivors Just Report Sexual Assault to the Police?

By LB Klein, MSW

file000244831962

[Photo courtesy of morgueFile]

According to the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. There are many reasons why a survivor might choose not to report an assault, or to stop pursuing a case after reporting it. Every survivor’s healing process or sense of justice is different, and it’s always the survivor’s right to choose whether or not to report sexual violence to law enforcement. The following are just some of the reasons that survivors may choose not to report:

  • Survivors might feel embarrassed about what happened, or want to avoid publicly discussing sexual acts or repeating the story over and over again.
  • Survivors often blame themselves or believe others will blame them.
  • Survivors might believe that involving the police or criminal legal system could lead to time-consuming and invasive processes with little chance of tangible results. They might also worry that these lengthy processes could delay their recovery.
  • Survivors might worry that the criminal legal system will find the perpetrator not guilty, making the reporting seem like an unnecessary and demoralizing ordeal. This might lead survivors to feel even less safe having gone through these systems. Failed legal cases can make survivors feel even more at fault, and as if no one believes them.
  • Survivors might not want others to find out about what happened, or to become targets for gossip or retaliation. Survivors might fear both physical retaliation and social consequences that could inhibit moving forward with their lives.
  • Survivors might not want their families, significant others, or friends to find out for fear that they will worry, become overly protective, blame them, retaliate against the perpetrator, or insist that they leave certain environments like school or work.
  • Survivors may not recognize that what happened to them was sexual assault or rape. They likely know and sometimes care about the person(s) who committed these acts. They might want help or support, but would not want to pursue actions that label what happened as “rape.”
  • If the perpetrator is found guilty of committing a sexual assault and receives a significant punishment, the survivor may face retaliation from other members of the community for getting someone in trouble.
  • The survivor may have been threatened by the perpetrator or be frightened of the perpetrator.
  • Survivors may fear compromising or complicating relationships with mutual friends.
  • The survivor may fear that others won’t believe an assault occurred. A common reaction from friends or family members that the survivor might have experienced is disbelief—that situations like this could not possibly happen. Another common reaction is to blame and scrutinize the survivors’ behavior, making the survivor reluctant to report assaults in future.
  • The survivor may have already had a bad experience with legal systems or have a criminal record, or know someone else who has been victimized by the system.
  • The survivor might not have the resources to pay the legal fees that are sometimes associated with reporting.
  • Survivors from communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, American Indian and low-income communities may have negative histories with law enforcement perpetrating state violence against them or their communities and may not view law enforcement and the criminal justice system as a source of healing, justice, or support.
  • The survivor might be focusing on coping with mental health symptoms, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, PTSD, academic or work difficulties, and safety concerns, and not have the time, energy, or support to pursue the case. Participation in legal processes often exacerbates these problems rather than alleviates them.
  • The survivor may have been engaging in other embarrassing or illegal activities when the assault occurred, and fears the conduct or legal process will uncover these.
  • If survivors identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or queer, or they were engaging in sexual activity with a person of the same gender at the time of the assault, they may be concerned about being outed if they pursue a legal process.

For these reasons and many more, many survivors do not choose to report to law enforcement. No one should ever force or coerce a survivor into reporting an assault to the police, and it should be a survivor’s decision if and when to report. It is crucial to put survivors’ self-determination at the center in all sexual assault prevention and awareness programming to help survivors regain the power and control taken from them when they were sexually assaulted.  We must continue to validate the experiences of survivors, regardless of whether they ever report to a police officer or spend a day in a courtroom, and to consider ways to address sexual violence outside of criminal legal interventions.


LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. In that role, she builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA.

 

Welcome to PIRCBlog!

saam_logo_1
          We begin this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month with the launch of our newest communication platform, the Prevention Innovations Research Center blog. Welcome to PIRCBlog!
         Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC) is internationally recognized for its collaborative research and community engagement, with a focus on preventing and responding to sexual and relationship violence and stalking.
          We hope to bring you interesting updates from our work here at the University of New Hampshire including work by our PIRC colleagues and collaborating partners from around the globe. Together, we are engaged in cutting-edge scholarship, research, education and developments that are making news and making a difference in ending sexual and relationship violence and stalking. Our research informs policy and practice and we convene practitioners and researchers to develop strategies for evidence-based, innovative approaches to violence prevention. We are committed to mentoring the next generation of researchers, scholars and advocates. Therefore, PIRC researchers involve graduate and undergraduate students in their projects at all stages, from design to implementation to publication. Our Susan Schecter Domestic and Sexual Violence Social Justice Lab is an interdisciplinary research laboratory where PIRC offers paid and credit-earning research assistantships to UNH students.
          PIRCBlog will include contributions from the PIRC team as well as from guest bloggers. Contributors will discuss current practices in social change and violence prevention, take a deeper look at the evidence-based research that drives our mission and summarize their peer-reviewed publications. We will also examine the partnerships with practitioners and communities where research findings are put to use and discuss their implementation. PIRCBlog will recognize practitioners and researchers world-wide who are working toward the same goals by highlighting like-minded organizations, tracking the news related to the prevention of sexual and relationship violence and stalking, and reviewing books, movies and other media that highlight sexual and domestic violence.
          As the launch of our blog coincides with April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), we have planned a series of posts on this year’s theme:preventionWatch for discussions of the importance of prevention and PIRC’s efforts helping post-secondary institutions, federal and state efforts,and local communities develop and implement model policies, procedures and programs. We’ll also be addressing prevention efforts in the military and on college and university campuses, prevention and public policy, and prevention in the media.
          We invite you to read and to comment on the blog, follow us on WordPress,visit our website, and subscribe to our semi-annual newsletter, PIRCNews, for information about PIRC. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, please see our submission guidelines. You can also follow us on Twitter (@WePreventNow), on Instagram (@preventioninnovations) and on Facebook where you will find updates about our work, and announcements of new blog posts. Thank you for visiting PIRCBlog!
          –Sharyn Potter and Jane Stapleton

SharynPotter1Sharyn J. Potter, Ph.D., MPH, is a founder and Co-director of Prevention Innovations Research Center: Ending Sexual and Relationship Violence and Stalking at the University of New Hampshire and is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology.
stapletonJane Stapleton, M.A., is a founder and Co-director of Prevention Innovations Research Center: Ending Sexual and Relationship Violence and Stalking at the University of New Hampshire.