Bystander Intervention Workshop teaches violence prevention

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Martin Liccardo teaches the importance of intervening on harmful situations on May 11. (Danielle Jardine)

The BYU Title IX Office and the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault sponsored a Utah County Bystander Intervention Skills Workshop on May 11 to teach both men and women how to effectively prevent and potentially intervene on harmful situations.

Men’s Engagement Specialist for the State of Utah Department of Health Martin Liccardo conducted the workshop.

The bystander effect refers to people not helping someone in need because they assume somebody else will do it. Bystander intervention is a prevention approach to all types of violence, including sexual violence, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Liccardo said the goal of the workshop was to make everyone more comfortable with the topic because it is not just an issue at BYU.

People won’t help in most harmful situations because it’s risky or inconvenient and there are too many unknowns, according to Liccardo. He said when people do choose to step in there can be a dramatic impact.

“Prevention happens before violence occurs,” Liccardo said. “Intervention is what we do to stop violence while it’s happening or to mitigate or minimize the harm of violence.”

Liccardo said intervention is important but prevention should be the first goal.

He said people’s attitude about sex, sexuality and sexual violence, and the current culture teach that personal boundaries don’t matter.

At a young age, people are introduced to gender stereotypes and to a culture that devalues women, which is a precursor to violence, according to Liccardo.

“When you want to insult a man, the most powerful thing you can do is to call him a woman. When you want to insult a woman, the most offensive thing you can call her is a woman,” Liccardo said. “I wonder how we feel about women in this culture.”

Often times, women are called “crazy,” which silences them, according to Liccardo.

He also addressed implicit bias and unconscious bias. Licardo said it’s OK to have a certain attitude about a situation, but to be effective, each person can’t be biased and use those judgments to harms others when they need help.

Liccardo said people think if they can’t find the perfect way to help or don’t feel qualified to do so, they will do nothing, but there lots of ways to help. He said it’s difficult to talk about sex in a healthy and appropriate way in today’s culture, so this makes it even harder to talk about sexual violence.

While the culture can’t be changed by just one person, there is still an important role to be played by a bystander interventionist, according to Liccardo. He said people can directly and indirectly intervene and one may be more effective depending on the situation.

“It’s important to understand the bystander role because when you step outside of these roles, you tend to get yourself in situations where your safety is at risk or your effectiveness at intervening is at risk,” Liccardo said.

Liccardo said there are positive and negative consequences to intervening and people can’t always expect to be the hero when they intervene.

He challenged the group with difficult scenarios. There wasn’t always a right answer on how to intervene.

He said various ways to diffuse a harmful situation include distraction, silently staring, finding others to help and humor when appropriate.

People must be conscious of their own safety, but they should mix and match different approaches because any help is better than no help, according to Liccardo.

Liccardo said he wants people to keep thinking about the issue, recognize what barriers keep them from intervening and how bias plays a role.

Special education major Hailey Stolworthy said she learned valuable lessons from the workshop and was inspired to be a better advocate for others.

“We always need to be an advocate,” Stolworthy said. “I just think that if everyone was an advocate and if more people were interested in it instead of thinking this was just a women’s issue, then it would stop. We would see less of it.”