Sexual Abuse: the ba-ba of the active witness

(Quebec) A few weeks ago, Université Laval began training active witnesses, who were called upon to intervene subtly if they saw behaviors that could degenerate into sexual assault. For three hours, these students learn the concept of informed consent and the different interventions that they could be asked to make during well-watered evenings.

So far, some thirty students have taken courses inspired by American universities, but the Center for Harassment Prevention and Response (CPIMH) at Université Laval wants to push this pilot project much further.

The effect of the passer-by

Several studies have proved this: the more people or passers-by around a person who seems in urgent distress, the less likely they are to be helped. “It’s a social comparison effect. The more people around do not act, the less we will be led to act, “explains Sébastien Grenier, master’s student and trainer of active witnesses. For example, in a bar or party where there are many people, witnesses of harassment or inappropriate behavior will be relieved of responsibility for the situation. During the training sessions, Mr. Grenier made scenarios, in the form of small plays, and asked the students to intervene. However, he wants to respect their style of intervention. Some will go directly to the shoulder of the harassing person to tell him that it goes too far. Others will choose to go a couple of seconds to a dancing couple, look at the woman in the eye (because the majority of sexual assault victims are women), and ask her if all goes well. Finally, some will go indirectly by asking the server of the bar to watch if this situation degenerates or going to warn a friend. “It can be subtle and you do not have to be heroes. Sometimes just distracting from the aggressor potential works, “says Grenier.

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Non-verbal language speaks

How do you know if two people are just flirting or one of them is being harassed? The look is diverted, the person is more tense, closed on itself, enumerates Josée Laprade, director of the CPIMH. According to her, people speak 70% with their bodies. “It’s better to be wrong than to do nothing and that the irreparable happen,” evaluated Marie-Ève ​​Simard, a student who took the training. Her colleague Sophie Villeneuve recalls having already witnessed several situations in the bars that may have degenerated. “I see it in my head. Every time I went out, I could have intervened, but I did not, I never did. “For her, a rape was something that happened exclusively between the assailant and the abuser. “It was between them and the justice and it does not concern me me as as unknown,” says M me Villeneuve. The training, however, made him aware of the importance of the witnesses.

The pyramid of rape culture

The training also teaches students what the pyramid of rape culture is. Basically, there are beliefs and stereotypes about men and women; On sexual intercourse and love. These beliefs will influence our behavior, or what we tolerate as behavior of the people around us. “In our study or working environment, do we agree to hear jokes about rape, for example?” Illustrates Josée Laprade. At the top of the pyramid are sexual assaults, which take root in the beliefs and behaviors that have been maintained. According to studies in the United States, the presence of an active witness decreases the chance of a rape by 44%.

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