Are you a bystander or 'upstander?'
BEMIDJI -- A bystander is someone who witnesses an event, but does not take part. An "upstander" is someone who recognizes when something is wrong and takes actions to make it right. Most of us have been in situations that feel wrong, but despite the nudging inside, we say nothing. There is often a fine line drawn in which, if crossed, despite our best efforts to be still, we intervene.
One such instance for me came when my daughter was just starting middle school. She wanted to go to the high school football game with some friends and not have me along. I was nervous, didn't want to admit she was growing up, but gave some ground rules and let her go. After not picking up her phone on my third attempt, I marched into the stadium determined to find her. I circled the track, and behind the stands filled with cheering fans, was a huge group of kids her age. As I made my way through the crowd, I searched for her. Then I saw something that made my stomach drop. A group of boys surrounding a girl, one boy in particular was moving in and trying to kiss her. All I saw was blond hair shaking back and forth and hands extended to push him away. Boys were cheering him on as I put my hand on his shoulder and said "What are you doing?" The boys scattered, and a little blond girl with eyes wide like silver dollars and welt up with tears whispered, "Thank you" and ran. It was not my daughter.
I remember a surge of thankfulness that it was not my child, embarrassment for being so bold, and then a welt of pride for stepping in and stopping something bad from happening. My search for my daughter continued, and in the five minutes it took for me to find her, I passed three neighbors, our busdriver, two former teachers, four people from our church that I didn't know by name and two good friends. Then it dawned on me that our world was good, and we are all meant to be upstanders. I was counting on these people to make my daughter's environment safe, and they were counting on me.
I don't know whose daughter I helped that night. I don't need to know. All I know is that I stepped in when I needed to. I know the faces I recognized would have done the same. How about the rest of us? It is not always easy to step into a situation or speak up, but someone is depending on us to do so. I learned something that night, it doesn't just have to be my family that is in danger, I have an obligation to my community to help our future. So do you.
There are three main ways of intervening as a bystander to become an upstander: we can distract, delegate or be direct. A person, who uses distraction as a means of interrupting something bad, could change the subject, spill a drink, tell a joke, talk about the Vikings, or be silly. A "delegator" is one who sees a bad situation and goes to get help. They call law enforcement, make a mandated report, find a security guard, or tell the party host or friends of the victim. They call someone who has some authority to stop the situation. Someone who uses the "direct" approach steps in and confronts the situation. They are the ones who say, "This is not right" and demand immediate change.
When it comes to sexual violence, we all need to be vigilant. We need to be empowered to react to situations and to do it safely. True prevention of sexual violence is to stop it before it starts and to make our environment unsafe for potential offenders in the first place. To learn more about primary prevention of sexual violence, contact Support Within Reach at (218) 444-9524 and ask about "Moving Upstream." We'd love to add more "upstanders" to our team.