Story Health

Could This Be the Best Way to Stop Campus Sexual Assault?

Ryan ZumMallen


The Clothesline Project visited CSU Channel Islands in April 2016 to increase awareness of sexual assault and violence against women. Photo courtesy of CSU Channel Islands


​At its most basic, safety from sexual assault and violence is the right of every student. To do his or her best in the classroom, a student must feel safe. Which is why the CSU is committed to providing an atmosphere of security and protection across all of its 23 campuses.

One of the methods that has proven to be most effective in reducing violence is a technique called bystander intervention.

Bystander intervention is a violence prevention strategy that equips students and others, including faculty and staff, to recognize the signs of potential danger, and safely intervene, both on and off campus.

It promotes approaches such as acknowledging the "elephant in the room," enlisting help from a friend to address a situation, and raising concerns about someone's actions using non-confrontational language. Bystander intervention doesn't strive only to prevent violence from occurring in that moment, but also challenges cultural norms that make violence acceptable.

CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White issued Executive Order 1095, revised most recently in June 2015, which directs all campuses to implement Title IX guidelines to prevent violence and sexual assault. The order made bystander intervention training mandatory on all CSU campuses. Today, every new CSU student undergoes training in bystander intervention techniques.

Tailored to Each Campus

A number of CSU campuses have molded their bystander intervention programs to find their own approach to this difficult topic. For example:

  • Humboldt State and CSU Long Beach employ what's called the leadership approach, which enlists campus leaders, such as organization presidents and elected student officials, to be involved in the effort to spread awareness of violence and ways to reduce it.
  • Campus police at CSU San Marcos visit student housing to discuss sexual assault and bystander intervention methods in a more casual one-on-one setting.
  • The Safe Place program at CSU Chico offers presentations and holds workshops to discuss sensitive issues with students, faculty and staff, and also has resources for anyone interested in starting a prevention project on campus.
  • In 2015, students at CSU Northridge were not allowed to enroll until they completed a simulation-style video game called "Agent for Change," which challenges users by addressing complex issues related to sexual assault, abusive relationships, harassment, stalking and more.


The Big Picture

Bystander intervention has been embraced by the CSU and campuses across the country because it has been proven to defuse dangerous situations. "Bystander intervention is about the only thing demonstrated to change outcomes," says Pamela Thomason, CSU systemwide Title IX compliance officer. "It's evidence-based. That's why it's being pursued."

The idea of bystander intervention had been gaining steam in education circles for year when it came to national attention with the 2014 release of "Not Alone, The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault," which highlighted the effectiveness of bystander intervention.

In addition to systemwide implementation of bystander intervention, every CSU campus now employs a designated victim advocate. Victims often feel they face barriers in reporting an incident, including even being believed. The victim advocate provides confidential, safe guidance and access to helpful resources.

Greater awareness of these issues has led to an encouraging trend: More episodes of violence are now being reported on campuses. The CSU is currently gathering updated statistics and also expects to see a rise in reported assault claims. Understanding why and how these incidents occur is a crucial step on the road to stopping them before they start.

Student Success; Community; Impact; Leadership