Synopsis: Colleges are now required by Federal law to present anti-sexual assault training to new students, but rather than instilling “no means no,” some experts think we need to do much more to enlist men to help prevent sexual assault. Experts discuss how it can be done by making men allies, rather than regarding them as potential perpetrators, and through bystander training.

Host: Reed Pence. Guests: Dr. John Foubert, Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs, Oklahoma State University, National President, One in Four, and author of 7 books on preventing sexual assault; Ashley Warner, psychoanalyst and author, The Year After: A Memoir; Dorothy Edwards, Exec. Director, Green Dot, Etc.

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Enlisting Men Against Sexual Assault

Reed Pence: College students are heading back to campus, and at many schools, student orientation will include a new mandatory class this fall–training and education to prevent sexual assault. It’s a requirement of the federal Campus Sexual Violence Act, which went into effect in July, a welcome step forward according to some experts. But others believe the act brings colleges only up to a bare minimum in their efforts to stop rape on campus. Surveys have shown that unwanted sexual incidents affect between fifteen and twenty-five percent of college women by the time they graduate.

Dr. John Foubert:  One of the things that we know is that, at least on college campuses, rape has remained remarkably stable since national data was collected in the eighties. And so, we essentially haven’t gotten any better, haven’t gotten any worse for the most part. I think that’s also an indictment on the little effort that college universities have made to move that needle at all, so I think we have a whole lot of room to improve in the way of educating students and holding students accountable for committing sexual violence.

Pence: Dr. John Foubert is Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Oklahoma State University and National President of One In Four, a non-profit working to end sexual violence. He’s also author of seven books on preventing rape on campus and in the military.

Foubert:  I think we’re seeing some initial finds in the military that their efforts are beginning to pay off, particularly because more women in the military are beginning to report it. And people tend to report more if they think that they’ll be trusted and believed.

Pence: Foubert says one reason the military does better is because they pay a lot more attention to sexual violence. The Naval Academy, for example, requires every midshipman to participate in four workshops on the subject each year–a total of sixteen by graduation. The new law affecting colleges stops far short.

Foubert:  It’s essentially taking the perspective that we can have a one time educational session with students, and then all of a sudden we don’t need to do any more to talk about sexual violence. And I think it is just not appropriate to think we can just talk to them one time and it’s all over. No big deal here anymore.

Pence: Foubert says college is also way too late to start addressing core attitudes that are formed at a much younger age. Things like what it means to be a man, and our attitudes about violence. Foubert says schools need to start talking about sexual assault in high school or even sooner.

Foubert:  I think high schools have been asleep at the wheel on this issue for decades and they need to wake up. I only have been to fifty or so colleges, and certainly many military bases in the last ten, fifteen years. I have only been to one high school, and – to give people education about sexual violence. And I think high schools just don’t really think it’s their responsibility, yet much of the rape is happening before students go to college, and indeed it’s happening during the high school years. And, so, I think we need to do a much better job educating our high schools students, but I also don’t think we should just start there. I mean, I think there are ways to talk to younger kids about what is consent, what does it mean to have control over your own body, what does “no” mean those sorts of things.

Ashley Warner: When you’re talking about consent, you’re really talking about learning empathy and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and care. And that’s an issue that really we need to take I think to the younger populations I mean that’s what you start learning in kindergarten is how to care about other people.  

Pence: Ashley Warner is a psychoanalyst and author of The Year After: A Memoir, the story of her recovery from rape more than 20 years ago. She says that another barrier to successfully combatting sexual assault is that it’s often framed as a women’s problem.

Warner: There’s been a lot of focus on preventing rape by teaching women how to protect themselves when they’re out for example. There’s been a lot of focus on where not to go, what not to do, look out for your drinks, don’t wear this, don’t go down this road. And so that becomes sort of this women’s problem.

Dorothy Edwards: For a long time we have talked about the issue of sexual assault as if there were only two possible characters. We kind of put women in the role of potential victim and men in the role of potential perpetrator, and unless we do lots and lots of education, and lots and lots of no means no and other type messages, that’s what they would default to.

Pence: That’s Dorothy Edwards, Executive Director of Green Dot, Etc., an organization that designs and delivers training programs to prevent sexual violence. She cites a growing body of evidence that men can be women’s biggest ally in stopping sexual violence, if they’re given a chance.

Edwards: What we know is the vast majority of men don’t commit assault. They don’t need us when they’re full grown adults, to tell them no means no. Even when they don’t, even when they get drunk,  they’re not accidentally raping people. So, is there a place for the consent messages? There are. Quite frankly, I think it’s earlier on in life, but as we move into adulthood given how much we have alienated men, with our wagging fingers saying “no means no,” if that continues to be a primary message we’re going to continue to fail to create a space for men to step in. And so, at Green Dot, we really go. you know what? In adulthood like college and beyond I’m not even going to kind of insult your integrity by making the primary piece of this conversation “don’t rape,” because I know you’re not going to rape. So instead I’m going to talk to you as an ally.

Pence: A growing movement demands we replace “no means no” with “yes means yes.” and about 1,400 colleges have done so, calling for affirmative consent in their sexual assault policies. New york and California have made it state law and a number of other states are considering it. Under such a policy, the initiator of a sex act needs to get his partner’s consent first before it’s legal. But one major hurdle to making that policy work is alcohol. That’s why many sexual assault prevention- raining programs concentrate on bystanders. Edwards says that’s one place where men can be powerful allies. Foubert’s research agrees. He’s found that the opinions of a man’s friends are very important in influencing behavior.

Foubert:  If you have friends or others around you who discourage behavior that would meet the legal definition of rape or other types of sexual assault, it can create a situation where a man doesn’t necessarily feel like he’s going to be protected or assisted in any direct way. That the problem with that issue on a even deeper complex way is that men who rape often surround themselves with other men who somehow will indicate that violence against women is okay in some form.

Pence: Yet many men don’t feel that way. They’re in a position to see and stop sexual assault or the attitudes that condone it… But often they’re too shy or intimidated to speak up.

Warner: There was a study that showed that most men are very uncomfortable when they are around other people disparaging women or acting in way that is harassing of women. So, it’s a matter of empowering people to speak up more about it . Making the norm to speak up more than the norm to say nothing

Edwards: Lots and lots of men wouldn’t feel comfortable standing up and going, you know, as they’re hanging out with their buddies “Hey man what you’re saying isn’t cool like, hey man knock it off!” Some men will feel that comfortable and so we want to give them the tools and the words to do that. But we also want to give other guys permission to say hey, you know wha,t maybe if you just don’t laugh, maybe if you just walk away from that situation, maybe if you just change the topic, even if there’s more subtle things. Maybe the best that you can do right now is just not go along with it.                       

Pence: However, Edwards admits that’s easier said than done. Even when someone recognizes a situation that seems headed for an assault, they often hold back.

Edwards: There’s personal barriers like, I’m shy, I don’t want to make a scene, I’m afraid If I step in something could happen to me, I’m an introvert, I don’t want to be embarrassed, I don’t want to step in and try to do something and then realize it wasn’t what I thought it was. And then there’s kind of another category of barriers that are more social, interpersonal, so peer pressure. You know, like, I don’t want to be that guy, I don’t want to be the party police I don’t want to be the snitch. I don’t want my friends to get annoyed with me. And there’s even, you know, kind of social relationship pressure around family norms. You know, like, in my family we don’t talk about this or even cultural norms, like, it’s not your business keep your eyes straight ahead don’t get involved. And so even good people even good men who want to help in real life run up against these things.

Pence: However, Edwards says for too long, organizations fighting sexual assault have ignored barriers, and acted as if people simply need a pep talk to do the right thing. But the Green Dot Etc. program admits that good people often fall victim to barriers and do nothing when someone’s in trouble. So she says what the program teaches are realistic tools to intervene.

Edwards: We’ve got to assume, when we’re training on bystander intervention, that whatever barriers men bring into the room they’re going to leave with. Which means, that we’ve got to come up with solutions that take those into account. So, we talk about something called the three D’s. Direct, delegate, and distract. And they’re just what they sound like. Direct means I’m in a situation where I feel completely comfortable addressing this situation directly it may be with the person who may be doing the harm or it may be with a person we’re afraid might be getting hurt. It might be as simple as hey man, I think you need to take a breath maybe step back or, hey, can I give you a ride are you okay? Did you come here with someone?

Pence: But many people can’t go the direct route. They need to delegate, and find someone else to intervene.

Edwards: Find his friends find her friends find your friends. Talk to a trusted minister get the bartender involved you know text an outsider to put on your setting, talk to your boss or a faculty or whatever the setting just pull someone else into the scene. And that allows folks to say, you know what, my barriers, I’m shy or I don’t want to be embarrassed keep me from doing it direct but that doesn’t mean I can’t do something I can get someone else to do something and that counts.     

Pence: The final technique Edwards and green dot teach is distraction.

Edwards: It doesn’t require anyone to lose face it doesn’t require anyone to even acknowledge they see what’s going on. And so one of my favorite distractions as a college kid who saw his buddy kind of isolating a young woman who had had too much to drink and he just called after him and said “Hey dude your car is getting towed” And the guy heard him and said “Oh dear I better check on my car!” he goes and check on his car while he’s gone her friends are able to pull her out of there. And his buddy, the one who did the intervention, wasn’t required to say “Hey man stop what you’re doing” and you know “Real men don’t do this!” Because he felt like that’s not something I could realistically do with my buddy. But once we gave him options, and said it’s not bad to pick one of these options and you can still have the same impact. Suddenly guys are going “Yea I could do that I could spill a drink I could say “Hey man we gotta do a pizza run!” I could ask for directions, I could kind of create a brouhaha with a couple of other buddies so that it pulls attention away from what’s going on.

Pence: Green Dot teaches those techniques to men and women together, though Foubert says his research indicates gender-specific programs may be better. But ending sexual violence will ultimately take cultural change, and it starts with all of us being better bystanders.

Warner: I think we need to put some effort into looking out for our neighbors just a little bit more. That if you see something that isn’t right, and you’re safe to speak up, speak up. If you are hearing someone tell an off-color joke say you’re not okay with it. If you are able to cause a distraction if there’s something going on that’s not cool, speak up do something about it.

Foubert:  That’s the key to changing the culture is have everyone think that it is everyone’s responsibility to end sexual violence and not just the police not just people of authority or whomever but it needs to be a societal wide solution to a societal wide problem.

Pence: For more information about Dr. John Foubert and his work, visit You can find out more about Ashley Warner and her book at And to learn more about Dorothy Edwards and green dot etc., visit live the green dot-dot-com. Or you can find links through our website, You’ll also find archives of our programs there, as well as on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Reed Pence.

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