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Bystanders: Agents of Primary Prevention

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The bystander approach is an encouraging prevention strategy that uses positive messaging and sustainable techniques. This approach removes the pressure we feel to single-handedly create social change through a one-time presentation. Working with bystanders focuses on building skills, developing meaningful relationships, and fostering community ownership. This prevention method takes the responsibility off the educator or advocate and shifts it to the community. Every person has the ability to be an active and responsible bystander; it's our job to give people tools to make this more feasible. Possible perpetrators or victims of sexual violence may not come into daily contact with one of us, but they do interact with dozens of friends, family, co-workers or other potential bystanders. These bystanders can intervene during the earliest signs of possible sexual violence and may prevent the violence from occurring; they are agents of primary prevention. The bystander approach draws people into conversations about creating a safer, healthier, and more equitable community, thus avoiding the pitfalls of focusing on rape myths and victim blaming.

This issue of Partners in Social Change delves into the bystander approach and examines some practical aspects that make this a great strategy for prevention work with youth and adults. The bystander programs we discuss impact individuals, relationships, communities, and society. You may notice that these interventions tie in to the progression of levels in our good friend, the social ecological model -- a friendly reminder of the importance of working on multiple levels to be effective in our work. We begin by discussing how we tell our stories as bystanders and the importance of building relationships. Then two successful bystander projects share their creative insights into engaging the community in preventing violence. Finally, we get an update from a Washington community sexual assault program involved in a nationwide bystander intervention program. And of course, we share relevant WCSAP Library resources.

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Reviewed: July 13th, 2016