Taking a bystander approach to gender-based violence

// 21 January 2011

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This guest post is by Ellie Hutchinson, a prevention worker at Scottish Women’s Aid

dontwalkby.jpgHave you ever walked past an accident or seen someone fall over and not stopped to help? Heard an alarm going off and not contacted the police? Or have you stopped? Asked what was going on? Most of us at some point will have been a ‘passive bystander’ and continued to walk on. Similarly, many of us know gender-based violence is wrong, but we might think that it’s not our problem or it’s not safe for us to challenge or intervene.

According to the World Bank, violence against women kills more women and girls aged 15-44 worldwide than road accidents, cancer, malaria and war combined. A study commissioned by LGBT Youth found that 81% of respondents experienced verbal abuse and nearly a third had been sexually assaulted. Research consistently tells us that many people globally experience gender-based violence; that is they experience verbal or physical abuse on a daily basis purely because of their real or perceived gender or sexual identity.

Workers from LGBT Youth Domestic Abuse Project, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, White Ribbon Scotland and Zero Tolerance came together to develop the Get SAVI bystander programme for colleges and universities as we believe gender based violence is preventable.

Bystander programmes see the target audience as potential allies in preventing gender-based violence and support ‘bystanders’ to develop appropriate and safe intervention strategies.

Pioneering approaches in the US have shown that university-based bystander programmes have been extremely effective in reducing the incidence of rape and dating abuse, encouraging a sense of community, raising people’s confidence and reducing the sense of fear on campus. These approaches have been extremely effective, but US campus culture is very different to that which exists in Scotland, so we felt it was important to develop a programme that worked in the Scottish and UK context.

This approach not only works as a ‘secondary’ prevention technique, that is, to minimise harm, but in the long term, we believe this will work as a primary prevention technique. The students that will take part of this approach will go on to be teachers, hairdressers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, mechanics. They will be parents, aunties or uncles.

We’re also hoping that this approach will be supported institutionally. We know that one of the barriers to speaking up is that people often don’t live, work or study in a safe and positive environment, and it’s important that institutions take responsibility for cultures of sexism and homophobia.

We’ve developed the programme so that students will be able to adapt and use the resources to fit their student communities best. We’re running the pilot this weekend (21-23 January) and hope to launch in March, after which point the resources will be available to download and used in colleges and universities by students or staff.

We believe that taking this approach to support people to think about safe and appropriate ways to challenge GBV is an important one to take. Together, we can stop it.

Photo of a stop sign by Dominic’s Pics, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 22 January 2011 at 12:07 pm

It is not ‘gender-based violence’ which is the issue – it is male violence against women and girls which is the problem. This is evidenced by reference within aricle to World Bank’s acknowledgement that male violence against women and girls is the biggest cause of women’s deaths.

So ‘gender’ is not the problem it is the fact males subject women to violence because we are female not male.

Providing effective ways to enable ‘bystanders’ to challenge men’s common everyday violence against women is essential but euphemising said male violence into ‘gender-based violence’ ensures the politics of how and why male violence against women is so common it is ignored works against women’s rights.

Will be interesting to see how this pilot scheme deals with issues such as ‘but women are equally as violent as men’ and ‘she provoked him into retaliating against her with violence.’ All are common excuses used to maintain males’ pseudo right to dominate and control women and girls.

Jackson Katz is a US based pro-feminist who tirelessly works with bystanders but his focus is on male bystanders who whilst not committing violence against women, by enacting bystander behaviour sends a message to the male perpetrators that their actions will not be subjected to male shaming or disapproval. ‘Gender based violence’ neutralises which sex is primarily committing said violence and instead claims ‘gender’ is responsible – as though ‘gender’ exists as an entity in its own right.

A clever way of hiding how and why male domination over women is the central issue – not ‘gender based violence.’

Natalie Dzerins // Posted 22 January 2011 at 1:06 pm

Could we get links to back up your assertions re: violence killing more women than malaria, cancer, etc? It’s not enough to just make massive claims like that without evidence.

Atomic Spin // Posted 22 January 2011 at 1:13 pm

Would it be possible to have a source for the claim that violence against women killed more people than cancer and malaria combined?

According to the most recent WHO data, violence against women resulted in 114,000 deaths. That’s a deplorable number, but certainly not as much cancer (3.1 million deaths among women), malaria (665,000), car accidents (323,000) and war (17,000) put together.

I’m worried that an otherwise extremely important cause is going to suffer, because people are going to see that rather dubious statistic and just mutter “Yeah, right” and move on.

spiralsheep // Posted 22 January 2011 at 2:01 pm

Good luck!

Amy // Posted 22 January 2011 at 2:49 pm

Atomic Spin and Natalie Dzerins, i agree with your comments. there has to be more evidence. i think violence in general is horrible. i myself have been a bystander while someone was being verbally abused be some guy, i do not normally just walk off but i felt that it was not my business. A couple days ago I read a article about this brave woman on the daily mail.


Lucie // Posted 22 January 2011 at 4:48 pm

I’d like to have heard something about the strategies you plan to teach to students, to be honest.

Sandra // Posted 22 January 2011 at 6:56 pm

Why are you mis-quoting the important WHO document. It said ‘kills or disables’. You only write ‘kills’….. It is a lesson in how to completely destroy your argument, and you render the whole debate useless…..

Harry // Posted 23 January 2011 at 7:39 am

According to the World Bank, violence against women kills more women and girls aged 15-44 worldwide than road accidents, cancer, malaria and war combined.

This is not true. The World Bank research refers to morbidity not deaths (ie it is about quality of life years lost not actual years of life lost).

However, even when quoted correctly, it is still a highly dubious claim which even the author of the research does not make.

Violence against women is shocking enough without having to make inaccurate and sensational claims.

Jess McCabe // Posted 23 January 2011 at 10:47 am

OK all, I’ve removed the reference to the World Bank research – I’ve not looked into the statistic myself, but this is a derail from the point of the post, which is not a competition over which disaster kills more women, but about the very specific situation of gender-based violence in universities in Scotland, with lessons more broadly for the UK.

Cath // Posted 24 January 2011 at 12:17 am

Thanks for the retraction Jess and I agree with you entirely, this issue is more important than quibbling over statistics or the term chosen to describe the problem (violence against women, domestic violence, gender-based violence, intimate partner violence) it all ends in the same thing, the violation of a woman’s right to live free from violence.

As a program facilitator of gender focussed self esteem, sexuality and peer relationship programming for young women, I look forward to the resources that are produced from this project. How can I find out more?

Lindsey // Posted 24 January 2011 at 9:25 am

Can anyone share any stories/strategies? (Thanks Amy for the link) My first real experience of seeing gender-based violence in public, in a kebab shop at 2am while a guy shouted at his tearful girlfriend, another guy in the queue asked him to stop and got battered for it. Obviously I can’t go back and change it now, but I could be in a similar situation again. I guess my options would be a) Start/join in opposing the guy’s actions b) Try talking to the woman to give her a way out of the immediate situation c) Call the police. What would you do?

Ellie Hutchinson // Posted 24 January 2011 at 6:11 pm


Great to hear everyone’s comments, and thanks for bringing the stat issue to my attention. The pilot went really well, and if you’d like to know more email me at ellie.hutchinson at scottishwomensaid.org.uk



Mobot // Posted 24 January 2011 at 7:14 pm

Wow, I’m kind of surprised at the tone of a lot of the comments on this thread! I support this approach and this programme. Jennifer Drew: I understand the need to discuss violence against women in terms that makes it clear that we are talking about male violence… but was the use of ‘gender-based’ maybe to make things a bit more inclusive and demonstrate the link between violence against women and homophobic violence? That’s how I read it at least… sorry Ellie if I’m putting words in your mouth!

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