Greek Life program highlights bystander intervention techniques to help prevent sexual misconduct

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Following a number of allegations of sexual misconduct against fraternity men and last semester’s suggestion that fraternities cancel all social events involving alcohol, discussion about how Case Western Reserve University deals with sexual misconduct has come to the forefront.

In an effort to help address this issue, while also tackling the topic of substance abuse, Greek Life hosted an in-depth bystander intervention program called “Be a Catalyst.”

“Getting involved can be very hard in certain situations,” said Ashley Hartman of Recovery Resources, a local behavioral healthcare group. “There are many factors that play into it.”

The seminar provided different ways in which individuals can intervene and help prevent their peers from making mistakes.

The seminar stressed that, even if it is not someone the bystander knows well, it is important to keep vigilant to help the CWRU community better as a whole.

“The key bystander reminders are to take a second, check in and ask ‘What if it were to be someone you loved?’” said Hartman.

The first step in being a bystander is recognizing when there is an issue. For situations of sexual violence or misconduct, this is usually when an individual targets a victim, approaches them and initially flirts with them in a friendly way. If the perpetrator is rejected, they will try harder, trying to instill guilt in their victim for not reciprocating their interest. They can also intimidate their victim and isolate them from other friends.

“This may seem to start out as all innocent, but make sure you watch out when a person is pressured to do things they are not comfortable with, especially when alcohol is involved,” said Colleen Fitzgibbons, also of Recovery Resources.

The forum also brought up that alcohol consumption is common in many cases of sexual misconduct in college campuses. Because alcohol is so ingrained in campus culture, it is hard for people to tell that it can be a substance abuse disorder. Nearly four out of five students drink on college campuses, and half the college students who drink consume alcohol through binge drinking.

Many of the obvious signs of substance abuse of any sort include extreme weight loss or weight gain in a short amount of time, loss of social interest and absence in classes for many weeks. These signs can also be used for telling whether a peer suffers from other mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety.

“Even being there for someone can help them greatly and lead them to get the help they need,” said Fitzgibbons.

Getting involved with any of these issues can be quite difficult. People abstain from involvement for many reasons. If it is a risk to their own health, people are less likely to get involved. If there is a large group of people, responsibility is diffused and relinquished and people are less likely to act. People can also hesitate to act for fear of embarrassing themselves or doing something that brings attention to them.

“There are three ways in which you can address a problem,” said Fitzgibbons. “They can be used in many situations at different times or at the same time: direct, distract or delegate.”

If there is an issue involving mental health, substance abuse or sexual misconduct, one can direct—meaning directly address—the issue by confronting those in the situation.

A person can also distract, or try to get people away from a situation, by driving their attention to something else.

“For example if a friend has already taken too many shots and is asking for another one, you can distract them to another topic or give them a shot of soda or something,” said Hartman.

To delegate is to get help from other people.

“This is useful in situations where you don’t want to be the only one involved, and you need help to intervene,” said Hartman.