Psychologist encourages sexual assault bystanders to intervene

Lindsay M. Orchowski, center, lectured about sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. She stands with Ben Ogles, dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, left, and Valerie Hegstrom, coordinator of Women’s Studies, right. (Jesse King)

Some people who commit sexual violence say they were blacked-out drunk and didn’t know they were hurting someone, according to Lindsay M. Orchowski.

Psychologist, researcher and deputy Title IX coordinator at Brown University Orchowski compared the excuse to drunk driving — drunk drivers are still responsible even if they’re intoxicated — and asked why perpetrators of sexual violence aren’t treated the same by the law.

Orchowski was at BYU earlier this month to speak about sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“In order to end sexual violence, teamwork is vital,” Orchowski said.

Orchowski said research on sexual violence shows college-aged victims of sexual assault often tell a peer about the assault. She said these peers need to be the ones to respond.

BYU freshman Grace Bateman attended the event because she has friends who have been impacted by sexual assault and wanted more information on the subject.

“I like how she said when people come to you and they … say that it happened to them, respond in a positive way. I think a lot of times we do become angry,” Bateman said. “It’s so important to be supportive of them so they feel secure talking to you about it.”

Orchowski said bystanders can intervene when they see sexual violence. (Jesse King)

Seventy-five percent of survivors receive a negative response when they tell someone about the assault, according to Orchowski. She said it’s not helpful to the victim when others get angry about the perpetrator because it could worry the victim.

Orchowski showed an ad of a man looking at a woman and a phrase written between them saying, “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.” Orchowski said media normalizes and supports violent attitudes, allowing perpetrators “to believe their behavior is tolerable” and sexism is “customary and cool.”

Orchowski said the job of a bystander is to take action. She said people should speak out if they see someone put a date rape drug into a drink and call out sexist or homophobic jokes or language. She said even if people don’t mean anything by those jokes, they are still promoting gender inequity and violence.

“It’s the intent that matters,” Orchowski said.

Jonathan Duston, a BYU computer science major, said he attended the event so he could be prepared if he ever interacts with someone who has experienced sexual violence.

“I liked how she talked about the little things we could do,” Duston said. “You don’t have to confront a perpetrator or something, but you can speak up if somebody says something that maybe has sexist things or might perpetrate rape culture.”


Orchowski said people help prevent sexual violence and intervene when they see a problem by doing the following:

  • Talk to each other about healthy sexual intimacy: consent involves both parties having clear judgment, being equally free to act, being positive and sincere in their desires and communicating clearly intent. “’No’ the first time it’s said is sufficient,” Orchowski said.
  • Ask people you see straying from their values, “How are you? I’m concerned.”
  • Talk to other people when you see something questionable happen.
  • Reroute conversation when people are objectifying others.

Orchowski said she encourages people to acknowledge when others speak out and to thank those that speak up.

“(Speaking up) fosters a climate of intolerance of problem behaviors,” Orchowski said.

The lecture was organized by the Women’s Studies honor society in conjunction with women’s studies and the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences.

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