Bystander program aims to prevent violence

Dr Shannon Spriggs

Griffith University is at the forefront of a program that challenges the notion of the “innocent bystander” and aims to prevent violence against women.

Dr Shannon Spriggs, a Research Fellow within Griffith’s Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, said the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program taught bystanders the skills and confidence to safely and effectively prevent, confront or interrupt situations of violence.

“Violence by men is one of the leading issues facing women today and you have to ask how we have arrived at a place where someone else’s suffering is not our concern,” Dr Spriggs said.

“A proactive bystander approach such as that employed by the MVP program can defuse a situation before it becomes untenable.”

Mentors in Violence Prevention was established by American educator Jackson Katz in 1993 and has been adopted by groups including US high schools, college and professional sporting leagues, the military, social service providers and campus fraternities and sororities.

American-born Dr Spriggs was MVP’s Assistant Director from 2006-2010, delivering more than 700 bystander training sessions. With the support of Griffith University, she is now bringingthe program to communities and organisations in Australia.

Through interactive sessions, MVP replicates school and social situations, demonstrates options available to participants and encourages discussion on embracing leadership in relation to partner violence, sexual assault and harassment, gender roles and bullying.

Several incidents during 2013 have focused attention on men’s attitudes towards women.

One of the most notable occurred in London in June when millionaire businessman, Charles Saatchi, was photographed with his hands at the throat of his celebrity chef wife, Nigella Lawson. They have since divorced.

That same month in Australia, a Brisbane Coroner’s Court inquest into the murders of two Sydney nurses near Toowoomba in the 1970s heard that a number of people had witnessed the women struggling and screaming, yet ignored their pleas.

Meanwhile, almost a year after the rape and murder of ABC employee Jill Meagher in Melbourne in September, 2012, women admitted they were still living in fear. At the same time, outrage over offenders committing violent crimes while on parole has been ongoing.

In sport, the AFL and NRL football codes have confronted the issue of player behaviour towards women, while in the military, high-ranking officers in the Australian Army were embroiled in a scandal involving emails and images demeaning women.

Dr Spriggs said MVP findings over the past 20 years in the US had resulted in substantial, evidence-based data confirming significant and positive changes in knowledge, attitude and behaviour of men towards women.

“I know from my own experience, you hear the so-called harmless joking but that stuff isn’t harmless or casual at all,” Dr Spriggs said.

“If you let it pass, it creates an environment that demeans the value of women and, in turn, makes it increasingly easy and likely for other acts to be ignored and even excused.

“The MVP program is about refusing to do nothing. It invests people with the education that can convince someone to choose another course of action, one without threat or harm.”