Tuesday, May 14, 2013

2013: The Year of The Bystander

Via North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services
We're hearing the term more and more, and especially in context of rape and sexual harassment.

Via Osocio
"Bystander" is the target audience for an increasing number of social marketing campaigns that attempt to change people's sense of responsibility for friends, neighbours, and even strangers.

I've been working on bystander-focussed campaigns for years, on topics such as elder abuse,  drunk driving and rider harassment on public transit. But I think this year is going to be all about what bystanders can do to stop sexual assault.

It shouldn't be any surprise. In several recent (and very disturbing) high-profile sexual abuse cases, bystanders acceptance and participation made otherwise ordinary people complicit in horrible crimes.

In Steubenville, Ohio, a young woman was sexually abused by members of a celebrated local high school football team. Classmates documented, shared, and joked about the incident. They even threatened the victim for daring to seek justice.

In Coal Harbour, Nova Scotia, another young woman was photographed having public sex while too drunk to consent (otherwise known as rape). The picture and the story were spread around the small town, and she was targeted on social media. Rehtaeh Parsons killed herself.

In Port Coquitlam, B.C., yet another young woman moved to a new school to try to escape the infamy of a topless picture she had shared with a stranger when she was in Grade 7. Schoolmates harassed her constantly about that, her depression, and a failed suicide attempt. After making a video cry for help that went viral, Amanda Todd also killed herself.

In Pitt Meadows, B.C., a young woman was gang-raped in the middle of a rave. Partygoers not only failed to intervene, they took photos and videos with their smartphones to share online.

Heard enough? One more.

In Saratoga, California, a young woman passed out at a party. She woke up to find she had been raped by up to three classmates, who had bragged of their assault by writing on her body with a Sharpie and taking and sharing pictures of the rape. Audrie Pott killed herself.

There are more. What they have in common is that these are not the actions of some individual predator acting in secret. They are a product of a culture in which rape is acceptable, under certain circumstances, and one person's humiliation is everyone else's entertainment.

It occurs to me that what's missing is empathy. Bystander empathy. But how do we increase that?

There is a role for social marketing here. And it's not just telling people not to "cyberbully" peers at risk. Instead, the greater social network needs to be connected more meaningfully to the lives and feelings of others. While the Internet is really great at turning people into harassers and trolls, it can also broaden their circle of empathy if they let it.

Via Osocio

A good example of this is the Draw The Line campaign, which I recently profiled on Osocio. It treats rape culture as a spectrum, starting with the apathetic acceptance of "distant" cases of assault and sexism in the media, and working closer to the audience's innermost circle:

The message is simple: It is all part of the same problem, and you are responsible for stopping it.

This year, will you be a bystander who makes a difference? Or will you be an accomplice?

You can start by evaluating your online behaviour.

Author Geoff Livingston, in his marketing blog, puts it like this:
So what can bystanders do? Well, they have several different options to choose from: 
1. Observe but refrain from getting involved
2. Publicly support the attacker
3. Privately support the attacker
4. Publicly support the target or victim
5. Privately support the target or victim
6. Become participants that attempt to deescalate the situation 
The vast majority of bystanders decide not to participate, and the reasons for doing so can range from feeling they don’t care enough about the problem to speak up, thinking their individual voice won’t steer the situation in a different direction, or wanting to avoid the risk of becoming a target themselves if they lend their support to either side. 
Bystanders who decide to publicly support one side or the other carry the risk, as noted, that they’ll become possible targets of furious opponents. However, by taking a stand they also have the opportunity to publicly speak out against unfair or untruthful statements and behavior. The challenge is to do so in a fact-based, rational and persuasive way, without getting sucked into the blind emotional intensity frequently seen in online exchanges and without taking cheap shots at the other side or trying to incite others into an online frenzy.

Be nice out there.

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