University of Arizona’s Campus Health Service recently published a PSA on how men can actively engage in sexual assault prevention on college campuses. The PSA is one of the best I have seen because it not only gives basic facts on sexual assault (i.e., “1 in 5 women will be the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault before they graduate college”), but because it is also includes three important primary prevention strategies for combating sexual assault:
(1) it encourages bystander intervention by providing examples of what to say or do to stop sexual violence before it occurs,
(2) it dispels numerous myths regarding sexual assault prevention,
(3) and it seeks to make sexual assault socially unacceptable across numerous socio-cultural groups.
By asking the men for examples of what they would say if they saw someone about to commit sexual assault, the PSA successfully provides examples of what a good bystander intervention could look like. Bystander intervention is a strategy for preventing violence based on the idea that people either continue or stop certain behaviors because of the responses of others to their actions. If a person is showing signs that they are about to commit a sexual assault and is called out by a peer for their actions before violence occurs, the potential perpetrator is more likely to stop. A great example of bystander intervention in action is the “Who are You?” PSA from New Zealand.
The University of Arizona PSA is also successful because it dispels harmful myths regarding sexual assault prevention. Unfortunately, many prevention programs place the responsibility of sexual violence prevention on potential victims (i.e., women) by instructing women to not drink too much, to not talk to men they don’t know, or to not walk home alone at night. The problem with this approach is it relies on stranger danger myths as opposed to facts: approximately two-thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim. By having male students pledge to engage in bystander intervention if they see a potential sexual assault, to educate themselves and others on sexual assault, to spread awareness, and to have the men tell their peers to “Stop it!” (the “it” being sexual assault), the PSA actively holds men accountable for engaging in sexual violence prevention.
Additionally, the PSA seeks to prevent sexual assault by making it socially unacceptable. For example the male students express their feelings on sexual assault and call it “one of the most disgusting things I could possibly think of you could do to another human being,” and “creepy, gross, and disrespectful.” By having male students speak out against sexual assault, the PSA aims to encourage other men to think similarly about the issue and to take positive steps to prevent sexual violence.
The PSA is also careful to include men from all walks of campus life in order to encourage viewer identification with it's message. White men, black men, Hispanic men, Asian men, men in fraternities, male athletes, male chemistry majors, male business majors, and men who wear “bro tanks,” all come out against sexual assault. By including a diverse representation of men on campus, the PSA encourages male viewers who may identify with one of the PSA participants to begin to view sexual violence as unacceptable as well.
Ultimately, the University of Arizona PSA is successful because it empowers men to prevent sexual violence by being educated bystanders and allies for potential victims and existing sexual assault survivors.