digging up the roots of gender-based violence

Being a Good Bystander Is More Than Calling the Police

In fact, calling the police is the least of it. If we are good bystanders, we are speaking up WAY before there’s ever a reason to call the police.

Let’s think about it. The general idea is to call the police when and if we witness a crime by sight or hearing. Which means an assault is already happening, the harm has already come. It may not be safe to intervene then, and calling the police may not be an option for a variety of reasons (link is a PDF).

What if we could prevent the assault from ever happening in the first place?

We could rewind to:

  • when we heard our friend call his wife a b*tch
  • when we heard our brother tell his girlfriend she can’t go out with her friendsbyst
  • when we saw a guy mixing punch for a party with way too much alcohol, saying, “This is for the girls, man!”
  • when we saw our friend invade a woman’s space, and ignore her requests for him to back up

At all of these times, it’s possible to speak up or step in. “Hey, that’s not cool. Don’t talk about your wife like that.” “Hey, dude, what difference does it make to you if she goes out with her friends? Relax.” Accidentally bumping the table, knocking the punch over. Stepping in front of your friend, and preventing his access to the woman. Or any other of the million ways you could do something that would stop an assault from happening well before it occurs.

We could also rewind even further, and interrupt when we teach boys toxic, violent and misogynistic masculinity.

We could rewind to:

  • when we heard a Little League coach call his team a bunch of “little girls
  • when we saw a man take the credit for a woman’s work
  • when we saw a teacher only call on boy students
  • when we hear someone say that boys can’t wear pink, or dresses, or paint their nails
  • when we heard someone ask about the motives of a woman who was raped, but not about the motives of the rapist

Again, the ways to intervene are many, and as varied as the situations that present themselves. My point is, if we wait until an assault is occurring to intervene, we’ve waited too long. If we really want to address gender-based violence in a meaningful way, we need to step back from the assaults as they occur (though, still providing help and support for survivors as they request it), and look at the way our culture supports the assaultive behavior of batterers and rapists. What do you do that perpetuates rape culture? What do your friends do? What is your role in ending it?

Cristy Cardinal is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has worked in the field of ending gender-based violence since 1997. Cristy has three kids, all of whom she is happy to share (gross or funny or weird, whatever) stories about any time. She is an avid fabric artist in addition to being a loudmouth feminist. Cristy is the 2012 winner of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence Wave of Change Award, honoring excellence in social change and prevention of gender-based violence.

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