When you see someone in a situation that seems threatening, pressuring, or even just uncomfortable, you can intervene to make sure they have a way out of the situation and stay safe. Sometimes this may involve stepping into a tense situation or calling the police, but more often it’s much smaller and easier than that. Bystander intervention can be as simple interrupting a pressured sexual interaction at a party to ask someone if they want some snacks, or voicing your concern at a flippant comment about rape. For more ideas, check out the Yale College CCE’s Bystander Intervention brochure.
Strategies for Avoiding and Resisting Sexual Coercion
- Communicate well. It won’t stop someone from being coercive, but it will help you identify coercion faster and more confidently (and your encounters with non-coercive people will be much more likely to be mutually pleasing).
- If you encounter pressure, act swiftly. Don’t get pulled into a debate, or a long effort to clarify your limits. These are tactics by which sexually coercive people try to wear you down. Disengage; get help if necessary. Yale is a supportive place—let people know you need help.
- Build a strong network of friends. Go to social events with those friends. Talk in advance about what you do and don’t want; check in if someone seems to be changing his/her mind. Don’t disappear; don’t abandon each other.
- Be able to leave, wherever, whenever. Know where you are and how to get back to your room; don’t go far without money and a phone.
- Avoid isolation. You’re much more vulnerable if there’s nobody around to intervene. Be wary of anyone who seems in a hurry to get you alone. You can find privacy without isolation.
- Trust your feelings. Many people learn to set aside their discomfort in sexual situations; don’t. If you’re getting a bad vibe, walk away.
- Avoid excessive alcohol and/or drugs. If you are really out of it, you won’t be able to protect yourself—or your friends. Know what’s in your drink and don’t leave it unattended. Be skeptical of anyone who is trying to get you drunk.
- Stand with survivors when they speak out. There is a lot of pressure on survivors to stay silent. Many only ever tell a friend; very few speak in public. Do what you can to listen and offer support.
- Respond when you see someone in need of help. There’s a lot you can do: help an intoxicated classmate get home; challenge a friend over his pressure tactics; support a roommate who wants to end an increasingly controlling relationship; speak up against disrespectful language. You might even call the police from a party, or alert your dean to a potential predator. It’s your community—do what’s necessary to make it safe.
What if these strategies fail?
Remember: it is not your fault. The problem is coercion, not vulnerability. Sexual assault is a crime. Call SHARE—203-432-2000, anytime—to get support and help in whatever actions you chose to take. You don’t have to handle this alone.