‘Active Bystander’ program heading to Washburn

Mark Feuerborn

Washburn University’s Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Coordinator, Shelley Bearman, has announced a new program aimed at combatting sexual violence at Washburn with new preventative measures slated to begin in the Fall 2017 semester.

Bearman was originally hired last year, after Washburn was awarded a federal grant from the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women.

“We were awarded $300,000 for three years in 2015,” Bearman said. “The scope of our grant is to create a culture of consent to reduce sexual violence on our campus.”

Bearman said that the university’s utilization of the grant will focus primarily on preventative measures as opposed to reactive. The Active Bystander program is a program which spreads awareness on warning signs of sexual violence, and training on what to do in situations involving it. Bearman said her hope is that Washburn students will utilize the Active Bystander training to prevent sexual violence in any situation, including cases where they are assisting people outside their group of peers.

“When a female may be walking home alone from a bar, and when a group sees that, they’ll say ‘Hey, walk with us, we want to help you get back to the dorms,’” Bearman said. “This is a tight-knit community, [and]people really do look out for each other. We want make sure people have the skills they need to make sure there are no incidents on our campus.”

Bearman said the program will have an emphasis peer-to-peer learning.

“We have some trainings that we’re going to be launching this Fall for the Active Bystander [program],” Bearman said. “To get it going we’d like to hire six students to be peer educators, so that it’s peer-led.”

The new peer educator positions were created specifically for the Active Bystander program, and Bearman has said it will be a paid position.

Bearman also said that the Active Bystander program will be conducted in partnership with Student Activites and Greek Life thanks to its director, Jessica Barraclough.

“Jess has been a real strong leader in ensuring the students have an active role,” Bearman said. “One of the pieces that we’ve looked at is an online traning so that all incoming students will get the same background on our student policies and procedures.”

Additionally, Bearman noted that specifically the WSGA president and vice president candidates Alexis Simmons and Scott Weinkauf have met with her to discuss the Active Bystander program. She hopes it is indicative of a potential partnership with WSGA as the Active Bystander program is carried out.

Tessa Graf, a Washburn alumnae and research assitant to Bearman, said that the Active Bystander program is also unique in that it combats victim-blaming in incidents of sexual violence.

“Victim-blaming is a very natural response that we have, because we call it the ‘just-world phenomenon,’” Graf said. “We want the world to make sense. We want good things to happen to good people and bad things to happen to bad people, and we try and make sense of these weird complicated situations. That’s why the education is so important, so people understand that the world doesn’t work that way. Sometimes bad things do happen to good people, and they didn’t do anything to deserve it in any way.”

Bearman said that beyond the Active Bystander program funded by the grant, they are also partnering with the Healthy Relationships program on campus to further education on sexual violence.

“Really, when you look at true prevention and education, they’re really the only place on campus that’s addressing this without any funding,” Bearman said. “I’d really like to acknowledge that because I think to take that on and to see a need and fill it is what we hope to see happen more.”

In light of the information that a resolution was passed by WSGA to increase funding for the Washburn Counseling Services in the Henderson Learning Center, Graf expressed hopes that additional therapeutic resources will be greatly beneficial to victims of sexual violence.

“People who have been sexually assaulted are 33 percent more likely to commit suicide,” Graf said. “There definitely is a need, and I think one of the main problems is the stigma behind coming out and talking about your experience. We just talked about victim-blaming. There’s alot of self-blame involved in it too.”

Bearman agreed with Graf.

“It can be overwhelming, the fast pace of the university schedule,” Bearman said. “Having the resources available for counseling is a part of student success. It’s really important for students to have that person they can talk to.”

Ultimately, Bearman hopes that the Bystander Program will alleviate many environmental enablers to sexual assault.

“One of the pieces with the Active Bystander initiative is that it really can transcend beyond a sexual assault, but it can be any violent act,” Bearman said. “Once you learn these basic skills of how to intervene safely that don’t put you at risk, you can apply that on a whole lot of levels.”

Students interested in the peer educator positions can contact Bearman for more information, and visit facebook.com/wustandtogether to learn more about Active Bystander.