A Chilling Look At Bystander Apathy

One of the more disturbing things about sexual violence are reports in which bystanders claim to have witnessed something wrong before an incident, but admit to not doing anything to prevent it. In an attempt to address that, the Ontario government has released a PSA that challenges onlookers to resist bystander effect and intervene when they witness sexual violence.

The #WhoWillYouHelp campaign shows varying situations of sexual violence in which the perpetrators (all men in this video), turn to the camera and thank the bystander for not intervening. “Thanks for keeping your mouth shut,” one guy says as he begins to undress a visibly intoxicated girl while his friend records it on his cell phone. “Thanks for minding your own business,” another man says while inappropriately touching a female coworker. Toward the end, the video states, “When you do nothing, you’re helping him. When you do something, you help her.”

This message is part of “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment,” the $41 million plan that was recently announced by the Ontario government. Over the course of three years, Ontario plans to implement services and messages like this one, that not only provide support for victims of sexual violence, but that also aim to address and change misconceptions through education about what sexual violence is. The plan includes multimedia campaigns such as the #WhoWillYouHelp social media hashtag, and also proposes a new health and physical education curriculum for Grades 1-12 and legislation that will make employers address workplace harassment.

I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of people talking about how things are better in Canada, but… The most impressive part of this plan to me is that it seems acknowledge that widespread misconception about sexual assault and consent are things that keep rape culture alive. To begin addressing that with school curriculum and public education is long overdue. People who are educated on what sexual violence looks like will hopefully be informed enough to prevent it. While sexual violence is solely the fault of the assaulter and there definitely need to more anti-rape messages that address people with messages that say “don’t rape” (rather than telling people “don’t get raped”), it’s good that we’re also spreading a message that encourages bystanders to help prevent sexual violence when they notice something inappropriate happening.

Another reason I’m not quite on the “Canada is better” bandwagon is that the message of this PSA could use some improvement. By only showing situations in of men assaulting women, the video adds misconception that those are the only situations in which sexual violence can happen. In reality, men can and do assault other men and transgender people, and women can also be the assaulters.

Still, this PSA is a welcome message when it comes preventing sexual violence, and since the plan was just announced, it's hopefully the first of many from Canada.

Images: ONgov/Youtube (2)