Ohio State is training students to help prevent sexual assault by intervening.
The Office of Student Life is set to begin piloting its “Buckeyes Got Your Back” sexual assault prevention program in residence halls this fall, said Michelle Bangen, sexual violence prevention coordinator for the Student Wellness Center.
Office assistance staff in every residence hall will partake in the training, which teaches participants how to overcome the bystander effect and prevent sexual assault, Bangen said. Resident hall advisers will receive the training in four unnamed residence halls, she said. The bystander effect is when people witness a crime and do nothing to stop it because they assume someone else will.
The Student Wellness Center has also customized training through the OSU Panhellenic Association to launch a new pilot program called “Sisters Creating Change,” which is set to start in three sororities in late September.
And this fall isn’t the first time Buckeyes Got Your Back has worked with students — it’s entering its third year collaborating with the Interfraternity Council and its second year with the athletic department. Every new fraternity member, freshman athlete and transfer student-athlete goes through the training.
Bangen wouldn’t provide the names of the halls and sororities where the program will start this fall because she said some residence halls won’t know they’re a part of it. She also said the programs are starting small so they can get feedback, make adjustments and then expand.
One in four college-aged women and one in six college-aged men will be sexually assaulted, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and 1in6.org respectively.
One of the best ways to decrease those numbers is to encourage bystander intervention, Bangen said.
“Basically all of the literature for sexual violence prevention is pointing to bystander intervention as the way to truly prevent sexual violence before it happens,” Bangen said. She said bystander intervention is referred to as “primary prevention” in her field.
Buckeyes Got Your Back uses a peer-facilitated approach by training leaders within an organization to learn how to train their personnel on the subject. These “train the trainer” sessions last about three hours.
In the case of the new residence hall program, staff at four pilot halls will be trained in September or October, and will in turn train resident advisers in October or November, who will then train residents in January, Bangen said. A sexual violence trained wellness ambassador is present at all trainings, along with that community’s leaders — like residence hall staff — to ensure the content remains at a high standard.
The 90-minute workshop deals with subjects such as victim blaming, sexual violence in the media, rape myths, the role of drugs and alcohol in sexual assault, the continuum of impairment and consent, gaining consent, and overcoming the bystander effect in order to prevent sexual assault, Bangen said.
But the program isn’t one-size-fits-all: it’s been tailored to fit the communities it works with, Bangen said. This way, the training gives relevant scenarios and advice for specific groups of people.
Bangen said bystander intervention training is meant to help people look out for risky situations. She also said simple phrases can change the course of a night. Phrases like “Are you OK?” or “Come to the bathroom” can be important.
When asked about the program’s budget, Bangen said in an email there are “no specific budgetary line items for sexual violence prevention programs.”
Derrick Anderson, a fourth-year in consumer and family financial services, took the training and has now become a facilitator through peer educators. He said the training talks about the statistics of sexual assault, something that’s eye-opening.
“A lot of questions that we get when we’re doing it is, ‘Is that actual real data?’” Anderson said.
He said participants often look around a room full of women and realize that based on statistics, there could be several victims of sexual assault among them.
Dan Grady, a fourth-year in political science and psychology and president of the OSU chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, said while he knows talking about sexual assault can be a sensitive subject, Buckeyes Got Your Back handles that aspect by avoiding blame and using peer leaders.
“The way that it’s designed, it works so incredibly well,” Grady said. “It’s just handled in such a way that it’s open and honest and the confidentiality is there.
“I think it’s really beneficial when you see people who you know intimately ask these questions that they haven’t had the chance to have everyone discuss with them.”
Anderson agreed, and said making information accessible is important.
“There’s moments that can be sensitive but the way the program is handled, it makes it approachable,” Anderson said. “And we make it a point to say we’re doing a program that … can be uncomfortable for people and that there is also, there’s always the chance that somebody in here is a rape survivor.”
While some groups, such as the IFC, have approached the Student Wellness Center about Buckeyes Got Your Back, Bangen said she went to PHA to develop “Sisters Creating Change.” Bangen said the program is different than Buckeyes Got Your Back because it focuses on communities of women.
Bangen said Buckeyes Got Your Back can be requested through her office for groups, but there aren’t many requests outside of the major communities with which they are already working. She has turned down requests to present in classrooms in the past because she does not feel like the environment fits the training.
“While it’s really important information for them, I don’t think delivering this kind of a program in a classroom that is not necessarily a community is as effective as if I’m sitting with a chapter of … fraternity men or an athletics team or even a … floor on a residence hall,” she said.
Beyond educating students about sexual assault prevention, the program is gathering Institutional Review Board-approved data based on the results of pre- and post-tests, Bangen said. This will continue through the residence halls through comparing the four pilot halls to control halls by looking at data about how the training affects people’s views on sexual assault and willingness to intervene.
Scott Spencer is a fifth-year in chemistry and molecular genetics and member of the sexual violence committee of the Student Wellness Center, which is a group of students, staff, police, faculty and others who aim to address sexual assault at OSU. He said the program aims to give students the confidence they need to intervene.
“That’s just really empowering students to step in and how to step in correctly if they see an issue that they’re not really comfortable with,” Spencer said.
Correction: Sept. 22, 2014