Peer educators teach importance of bystander intervention

Courtesy Billy Lanford

Courtesy Billy Lanford

Amy McNeel

Sexual assault awareness has always been a big theme in campus culture, particularly in recent years. From the #MeToo movement to Time’s Up, widespread exposure of sex crimes has  shown that millions of people every day are subjected to sexual assault. Though the conversation has opened up and more people than ever are speaking up about their experiences, not everyone knows exactly how to move forward after they’ve been assaulted, or how they should help someone else in that situation. A peer education program at Grand Valley State University aims to give students the tools they need to keep themselves and others safe in sexually violent situations. 

GVSU’s Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity has programs and resources for students looking to become active bystanders. These programs, called Peer Education and Prevention Talks (PEP Talks), are available to all GVSU students, faculty and staff. 

PEP Talks focus on bystander intervention and teach students how to safely and productively intervene in situations where sexual misconduct occurs. 

“We discuss various ways that active bystanders can intervene; it doesn’t always have to be up close and personal,” said Michigan State Police Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program Graduate Assistant Caitlyn Cubberly. “In fact, we encourage students to intervene with others and from a distance because that is typically the safest.”

The PEP Talks are run by peer educators — GVSU students who are trained to understand sexual assault and its effects on college campuses. The peer educators are also trained and educated in understanding topics such as sex-trafficking, consent and intimate partner violence. 

The talks are 90 minutes long, staring with a presentation by the peer educators followed by transition into open discussions and group activities. Attendees are always welcome to ask questions and interact with each other and the Peer Educators. 

Cubberly said there will always be a need for bystander intervention and education on the subject is important because you never know who in your life may be affected by sexual misconduct. 

“I have found myself in situations where I found it very difficult to just stand by,” said peer educator Taylor Bowie.

“I also found it extremely difficult to be the only person stepping in, because what I noticed whenever I give a presentation to people on campus is that a lot of people don’t really know how to be a bystander or what to do if they are one. I feel like just educating people on that can go such a long way. Once you have the idea, it’s not that hard to step up and be a leader.”

PEP Talks have set dates but can also be requested for any groups such as classes, student organizations and Greek Life. The next scheduled PEP Talk will take place Wednesday, Jan. 23 in the Kirkhof Center 2266 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. 

Sexual violence affects someone every 98 seconds (RAINN). GVSU students can make a difference and strengthen the campus community by being an active bystander in threatening situations.