Developer of AF bystander training speaks at Colo. College

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
One of the architects of the Defense Department's bystander intervention training approach to sexual assault prevention spoke about men's violence against women at Colorado College Sept. 18. Members from the Academy's Behavioral Sciences Department were in attendance to listen and learn.

Dr. Jackson Katz addressed the language surrounding sexual assault and talked about how he adapted the bystander approach to preventing sexual assault, originally through the Mentors in Violence Prevention program.

"I really enjoyed and appreciated Dr. Katz's talk and candid conversation with the audience after his formal remarks," said Capt. Monica Herrera, an Academy instructor with the Behavioral Sciences Department. "Attending this event provided the unique opportunity to hear questions and perspectives from members of the broader Colorado Springs community."

In the 1970s and '80s, efforts to lower sexual assault rates focused on risk reduction, not actual prevention, Katz said.

"Prevention means going to the root cause, and women are not the root cause of sexual assault," he said.

Meanwhile, men got the tough talk: "Don't do this or you'll face the consequences." That, Katz said, caused men to respond by saying they would never sexually assault a woman, therefore removing themselves from prevention efforts. Bystander intervention training, therefore, focuses not on potential perpetrators but on people who can act in a situation to make a positive difference.

"We need a lot more from 'good guys' than 'I'm not a rapist,'" Katz said. "Everyone is a bystander. What can they do not to be silent in the face of their peers? That's social justice 101."

Incidents of sexual or domestic violence form the tip of a pyramid, Katz said. The foundation of that pyramid comprises a culture that devalues women.

"If guys are saying sexist things, and you don't say anything, isn't your silence a form of consent?" he asked. "If you don't do anything, aren't you part of the problem? But on the positive side, can't you change things?"

Stopping the foundational behavior changes the culture, thereby preventing the incidents at the top, he said.

"If you could get this built in, we'd see a change, because the typical perpetrator is not a 'sick' man," he said. "The typical perpetrator wants to be valued and respected."

Bystander intervention appeals to people's better natures, Katz said.

"What kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be the kind of person who walks by something like this, or do you want to be the kind of person who says, 'I'm going to do something about this'?" he said. "What do you do? What is your obligation? You can help people think through the implications of their decisions."

The widely publicized sexual assault that took place in Steubenville, Ohio, in 2012 emphasizes the need for bystander training programs, Katz said.

"How can we have a group of kids at a party who don't know what to do?" he said. "I wrote that scenario 20 years ago. We know what to do!"

But bystander intervention is only one part of the solution. The U.S. must also reexamine how it talks about, and writes about, sexual and domestic violence, Katz said.

"Calling this a women's issue is a problem for a lot of reasons," he said. "It gives men an excuse to tune out. The dominant group is rarely challenged about its dominance. Men are often erased from the conversation. We ask, 'How many women were raped?' not 'How many men raped women?' The passive voice shifts focus."

Katz illustrated this point using a series of sentences written on a whiteboard. The first read, "John beat Mary"; the next, "Mary was beaten by John." Katz omitted John from the third sentence, which read, "Mary was beaten." This, Katz said, leads to victim blaming, which is pervasive in American society.

"It's legitimate to ask questions about women, but it's not going to get us anywhere," he said. "The questions shouldn't be about Mary; the questions should be about John. Why do so many men sexually assault women? Why do so many men sexually assault other men? Why do so many men sexually assault children?"

Discussions of sexual or domestic violence must include the active agent: men, Katz said.

"When we talk about 'violence against women,' there's no active agent," he said. "Instead, I call it men's violence against women, because the vast majority of violence is done by men. It's not a women's issue, it's a men's issue."

Katz said discussions of violence require "honest, direct, accountable language," but American media has gone backward in that respect with terms such as "alleged victim" and "accuser."

"When a person reports a crime, that person is reported as a victim for every crime except sexual assault," he said. "The new term for a victim of sexual assault -- accuser -- is now completely mainstream. When you call a victim an 'accuser,' she is no longer sympathetic. We've shifted our sympathy from the victim to the alleged perpetrator. That's one reason why victims don't come forward."

Change has to start at the highest levels: with presidents of college campuses, CEOs of large businesses and commanders in the military, Katz said.

"If we start at the lowest levels, we have no hope," he said. "We can get people at the lowest levels to buy in, but at some point they reach the limits of their power institutionally. This needs to be part of the whole expectation of education -- of everybody, men and women, girls and boys."

Getting men involved and changing the culture is important for far more than just safety, he said.

"Safety is a narrow way of thinking about sexual assault on college campuses," he said. "We want to prepare people to be citizens of the community and the world. One of the most critical elements in raising a society is lifting up the women in that society."

Katz has previously spoken to cadets and staff at the Air Force Academy. Teresa Beasley, the Academy's sexual assault response coordinator, said Katz's program has revolutionized the Air Force's approach to sexual assault prevention.

"Dr. Katz is a passionate, outspoken subject-matter expert and advocate," Beasley said. "He and his staff and his MVP program were major contributors to the Air Force Bystander Intevention Program that we finished Air Force-wide last year. The program received rave reviews ... not just in terms of content but also presentation.

"We've had his program here and at the Preparatory School, and if our Fiscal Year 2014 budget allows, we plan to have him work with our Athletic Department coaches, staff and intercollegiate athletes," Beasley added. "He has vast expertise and is a compelling speaker."