Workshop takes initiative

E Active held its second sexual assault workshop, for men this time, on April 25 in the Umbeck Science and Mathematics Center.

A healthy crowd of about 20 attended the workshop, where professor Gail Ferguson and a host of psychology majors and minors helped to elucidate the nature of sexual violence, the bystander effect and the techniques one can use to defuse potentially dangerous situations.

The workshop — one part lecture, one part discussion and one part role-playing exercise — was developed as a result of the recent events on campus. Ferguson said of the program, “Our psychological skills gave us great resources to fight [sexual assault]. Prevention is the way to go.”

The program used for the presentation, said Ferguson, is a skeleton: certain points will be covered and this predetermined content remains the same for the programs of either gender, but the bulk of the workshop itself is largely determined by its participants.

The men’s program, for example, at one point discussed and role-played out a scenario involving recognizing male-on-male sexual assault.

They also discussed how talking about one’s bowel movements can be an effective deterrent for would-be attackers, topics which did not come up during the women’s workshop.

The afternoon began with a short quiz, a series of true or false questions relating to common myths about sexual assault, the answers to which were revealed during the introductory lecture that followed.

This dispelling of common misconceptions led into the bulk of the program, which explained the bystander effect — the tendency for people who witness crimes or immoral actions to not do anything about what they have seen—and ways to overcome it.

Student helpers played out several scenarios that could result in a sexual assault, asking participants to name the signs of a potentially volatile situation.

After this, the scene was replayed, though the actors demonstrated how to defuse the danger the second time around.

Next, participants were given the opportunity to put their newfound knowledge into practice. Participants were split into groups and given assault scenarios common to college life, like frat parties or hanging out in a dorm suite. After discussing the appropriate ways to intervene in the particular situation, the groups were given the chance to put the plan into action in a group role-play, which showed just how difficult taking the initiative in preventing assault could be. During the party scene, for instance, students spread out about the room, some played in a makeshift, beer-pong style game and others socializing with one another in smaller, separate groups. Participants noted that, with so much activity, determining who was to be assaulted was difficult—and in this pretend scenario, they knew it was coming. Translating this knowledge to real-life situations when assault is unexpected could then be even more difficult. One group also commented that, even once the victim had been identified, the bystander effect took hold. The group in question forgot which group was responsible for demonstrating their plan, but opted to let another group handle it rather than take action in the uncertain situation.

After the workshop, participants took a survey rating the effectiveness of and the need for the presentation, which will help to determine whether or not the program could return in the future.

Dan Dyrda

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