Saturday night I walked up the beer-soaked steps at the Zephyr behind a woman in 8-inch heels. She was struggling to walk, which I at first attributed to the daggers on her feet, but when I saw her clinging onto a man’s sleeve for dear life and lolling back and forth in the stairwell, I knew she was inebriated. When I got to the second floor and passed by them, I looked at her and asked if she was okay. She mumbled something unintelligible and I looked at the man accompanying her. He looked away quickly. He seemed sober.
I felt a surge in my gut that something was wrong. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but now the situation had caught my attention. A few minutes later, I looked behind me and saw them against the wall, her body having a hard time staying upright and his hand on her butt.
I’ve seen this situation play out more times than I’d like to say in Kent’s downtown nightlife. There was a time when I wouldn’t have noticed it, I’m sad to say. A time when I wasn’t aware that nearly one of five women is sexually assaulted during her college years, according to The New York Times.
But after learning a lot about rape culture from a class magazine story about the Sexual Assault Response Team at Kent State, I began to notice it more and more.
I didn’t know that woman at the Zephyr, but I did know that I as a bystander had a responsibility to make sure she was ok. Bystander intervention has been proven to help cut down on sexual assaults. According to a University of New Hampshire study, a group of young men went through a bystander intervention campaign, and at the end of a few weeks, 38 percent of the men reported that they intervened in a sexual assault compared with 12 percent of the group that hadn’t seen the campaign.
Intervention is easy when friends are involved. If I notice a guy creeping on one of my friends, I have no problem walking over to him and asking him to go away.
But bystander intervention with strangers is not easy. When I see a situation that feels a little off but isn’t blatant assault, how far do I go to intervene? And how do I intervene when I feel it’s necessary? It’s not easy to walk up to strangers and tell them to back off a girl I don’t even know. For all I know, they can be a loving couple who had one too many vodka sodas.
I won’t be bursting out of a phone booth in a superhero cape and light saber screaming, “GET AWAY FROM HER!” anytime soon, but I will be working on subtle ways to make sure no one is being taken advantage of.
If we make an effort to look out for our sisters and brothers, we can help stop sexual assault and make life a lot less messy for a lot of people. Our generation is a creative, freethinking bunch that is making great progress in the realms of technology and equality. Let’s continue our progress by setting our sights on stopping sexual assault and being proactive bystanders.