Part 1: Emerging Technology as a Tool for Bystander Engagement

Dear Engaged Bystander: I have a teenager at home and I see how Facebook, texting, instant messaging and so many other social media tools are the mode of communications in their nearly 24/7 world. We often hear about the negative impact of these emerging technologies through bullying stories. I asked a national expert, Marianne Winters of Graphix for Change to talk about these same tools as an opportunity for bystander interventions.

Joan: Where do you see the match between the work you do and bystander intervention?

Marianne: There is an exciting match between the goals of the sexual violence movement and the opportunities created by the emerging internet technologies. We believe that our movement needs to jump into these new technologies to ensure that our voices are heard in this new and exciting environment.

Let me give you a concrete example.

I just googled the term sexual violence in the city where I live. Here's the list of sites on page one.

  • the local sexual assault service provider,
  • a training event that happened last year,
  • 3 defense attorneys giving advice to someone accused of sexual assault or domestic violence,
  • some general business links to the local rape crisis center and some other law firms.
  • a listing of local newspaper articles on sexual assaults,
  • some links to law firms 90 miles from here and some national organizations.

Then if I scroll through the entries, I begin to find sites that give messages about sexual violence - this is where it starts to become a problem.

  • a YouTube video of a sex scene that is really a simulated rape.
  • an entry in a website on college stories where a survivor of date rape shared her story and then received a long list of comments, some supportive, others victim blaming and abusive.

Here's the good thing about this list. If I were a victim of rape looking for help, I would have found the local hotline easily enough.

Joan: And then what is the challenge here for bystander engagement?

Marianne: Here's the challenge as I see it. Putting on the hat of an interested bystander, I did not find any information about what I could do to help end sexual violence. I easily found news and resources, yet I could not find any information about what I could do in my community. None of the important messages of the movement such as what role my school, sports team or my church could play in setting new social norms, increasing safety, support and comfort for victims or interventions for those at risk to abuse were anywhere in the top 50 listings.

Even more problematic for the sexual violence movement and the communities we serve, I didn't see any simple information about what's healthy and normal, what to expect if I report sexual abuse, or what to do when I someone I know discloses abuse to me. I can't readily find out what will happen if I witness an abusive joke or have a friend who has attitudes that blame the victim.

Joan: So given your expertise, how do we meet these challenges using this technology?
Stay tuned for the next blog posting and conversation with Marianne Winters, Graphix for Change.