Relationships and education on campus

 

Sir, – The Bystander Intervention pilot programme at UCC introduced in 2016/17 addresses the issues of sexual and relationship violence among students, by developing an understanding of the dangers of the social normalisation of abusive behaviour, an awareness of indicators of danger and abusive relationships, and the crucial capacity of a bystander to positively and safely intervene.

It presents a pro-social approach to educating students about the complexities of abusive relationships while also providing them with the skills to act in a supportive and impactful manner.

By educating the students about their shared positive views regarding the current social normalisation of unacceptably sexually charged language and abusive behaviour, through anonymised social-norm questionnaires, the bystander programme provides them with a safe and open space to ultimately realise that their peers are equally abhorred, but too often they each underestimate the extent of the shared views and repulsion.

Additionally an instinctive tradition of non-intervention based on an inhibition to intervene is significantly diminished in the safety of the classroom environment where shared experiences and personal revulsion is often openly discussed for the first time. That eureka moment where they realise that in speaking up they won’t be alone is invaluable in removing their inhibition and incubating a desire to shatter the false consensus that might surround any suggestion of acceptability. At this point our workshops become the learning ground for developing skills of active, safe and effective intervention.

An act of intervention, whether for a stranger or friend, has two immediate effects. It calls out the unwanted words or deeds and declares a zero tolerance of unacceptable acts and intentions of abuse. It can be that moment of intervention that shapes the path of the survivor’s future. It can be that act of diversion, distraction, that declaration of support, that decision to step up, that will change the course of that person’s life, either avoiding an incident of abuse altogether or calling stop to an existing pattern or relationship of abuse.

Every student, every member of society is a bystander to the words and deeds of those around them. The work done at UCC delivers a comprehensive, evidence-based, positive learning experience with pro-social impact for our students. We seek to change the culture by positively empowering students to play an active role on endorsing and effecting a zero tolerance of unacceptable sexual behaviour. – Yours, etc,

Dr LOUISE CROWLEY,

School of Law,

University College Cork.