My First Blog Entry...

Dear Engaged Bystander,
How do I begin a blog about engaging bystanders? Why would you want to read this? Who am I to begin writing this blog?

First, let me introduce myself. I have worked in the field of sexual violence prevention for nearly two decades. I am old enough (over 50) to clearly remember a time when people did not think that sexual abuse existed. Psychology books in 1973 did not even have child sexual abuse in their index. And when I started this work, there were no television shows, movies, popular books, even young adult books that covered this topic. Now it is everywhere.

So when I began this work, our movement talked about shattering the silence surrounding sexual violence. I believe we are now at a very different phase. We have shattered the silence. Watching one day of TV will tell you that.

Now, we need to learn how to really talk about this issue. We need to learn what to do.

What I have learned in my career is that we cannot ask people to change from a place of fear. We need to offer everyone we work with a sense of hope -- hope that we can change. I have learned that from interviews with hundreds of victims, survivors, offenders, and families who have experienced this trauma first hand. But we have changed society 's view on so many issues (e.g., drinking and driving, smoking in public places, etc.). I KNOW we can do that around sexual violence prevention.

Through this blog, I hope to share my slightly different perspective around prevention. Most of my work in prevention has focused on working to prevent the perpetration of sexual assault. You can read more about it in the NSVRC book I had the privilege to write: Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention.

For now, I just want to say I am thrilled to be writing this blog and I welcome your comments, suggestions, and stories of hope. Tell me a story about a time you chose to say something or do something. And while I really don't like the word bystander (I grew up with this word symbolizing all of the people and countries that let 9 million Jews, Gypsies, political prisoners, gay men and lesbians die in the Holocaust), I hope that together, we can transform the bystander into a concept that means responsibility, accountability and engagement.

I hope to hear from you soon.


P.S. The image of the heart is from Arte Sana. Arte Sana (art heals) is an incredible project for underserved survivors of gender and racial violence to promote healing and empowerment through the arts and community education.

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Submitted by David Lee on

Great to see this blog. What a great opportunity to advance bystander approaches to prevention.

PreventConnect will have an interview with Joan appearing soon -- I'll let you know when we post it.

Submitted by Karen Baker on

Joan, thanks for creating this blog and encouraging discussion around bystander responsibility. I'm curious to know what people think of the term "bystander" and then with the adjective "engaged bystander." I bristle every time I see the phrase "don't be a bystander"... because we can't help but be bystanders (witnesses) to all kinds of things every day. There's nothing inherently good or bad about that term. It's a matter of what we choose to respond to and how that makes us either passive or active - part of the problem or part of the solution.

Submitted by caseykeene on

Great point, Karen! Perhaps part of our activism should involve the use of bystander in a positive context - as part of our every day language. For example, "I was a bystander to a lively parade!" or "I happened upon a group of kids having a great time at the playground, and was a happy bystander to their giggling!"

Of course, my examples are exaggerations, but I think it's important to shift away from the negative connotations. The trouble is that I can't think of a substitute word that better communicates this person's role... Can anyone else?

Submitted by David Lee on

Today PreventConnect welcomed this new blog at our blog We also have an interview with Joan that you can find at

I have also tweeted about this great new resource. Thanks.