BC Lions Urge Men to “Be More Than a Bystander” to end Violence Against Women

by Jarrah Hodge

When dealing with issues around male  violence against women, how do we get messages out to men and boys? The Ending Violence Association of BC is putting part of their focus on having role models speak out, partnering with the BC Lions for the “Be More Than a Bystander” Campaign.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, EVA BC is a provincial umbrella organization that works on behalf of 240 front line programs. They provide support, information on complex cases, training and resource development, and more. The Bystander campaign features BC Lions football players using their status to speak out against domestic violence.

Although some feminists might be leery of men being spokespeople on this issue, it should be noted the campaign is guided by an advisory group of women experts on violence against women.

I did an email interview with EVA BC’s Executive Director Tracy Porteous to learn more about how she thinks the campaign is doing in its second year now.

What gave you the idea to partner with the BC Lions for More Than a Bystander?

I, and many others in the field of violence against women, had long been thinking we needed more men to speak up. I thought we needed sports stars because they were icons and role models to men and boys so we approached the BC Lions…From that first meeting on, the Lions were in and we built this groundbreaking, never-been-done-as-big-anywhere-in-the-world initiative!

The power of this campaign is that we are engaging men in positive ways, not as potential abusers, but as bystanders who see these attitudes every day and who can act as allies, agents for positive change, and who have the power to speak up to prevent violence and to change attitudes. We know that the vast majority of men do not use violence against women and so imagine the difference that can be made if the vast majority of men who don’t commit violence began to be more than bystanders and speak up to the minority that do!

We give bystanders a multitude of options – always with an emphasis on personal safety – in hopes that people will be more likely to respond rather than be silent or passive in the face of abusive or violent situations. Something we want people to take from this campaign is that being a bystander means different things depending on the situation, on whether the perpetrator is known to you or is a stranger, etc. And so we provide ideas something for how to respond in these very different types of situations.

The campaign has been running now for over a year and is set to go for 3 – what are some of the things you’re most happy about so far?

We set out to run the program for 2 years actually but we are looking for funding to renew it because it has been overwhelmingly successful. In our first year we visited 17 schools from north to south to east to west and reached 6,500 high school students. We will be aiming to try to reach 10,000 youth next year. Through our Public Services ads we conservatively estimate we reached 28 million people in the first year.

What kind of feedback are players getting in schools?

We’ve gotten really positive feedback so far, with students reporting that they leave knowing much more about violence against women than they knew before going to the presentations. The majority of students have responded that after hearing the presentation they would say something if they heard someone using abusive language about women or girls, and that they would try to do something if they saw a girl being pushed or yelled at.

What action do you hope people will take if they see one of the PSAs or hear a talk in a school?

Our goal is to make it socially unacceptable to be abusive or disrespectful toward women and girls.

We hope that people will learn non-verbal ways of being more than a bystander, including refusing to join in when peers make derogatory, degrading or abusive comments, or walking away from the group that is acting this way. People can also offer their presence if they see a woman being targeted. Simply standing near her so that she (and her harasser/abuser) knows she is not alone. You can speak directly to the woman and give her control by asking things like “are you okay? Is he bothering you?” This takes power away from the perpetrator. Take action if there is a threat of immediate danger by calling the police.

In one of the PSAs, BC Lions player Travis Lulay gives a few examples of how you can be more than a bystander. He says “I’m not ok with what you’re saying”, “Hey, leave her alone”, “From one guy to another, the way you’re talking about women just isn’t cool.” Other verbal ways that you can be more than a bystander include distraction as intervention. For example, if you see a woman being harassed or abused, you might ask the perpetrator for the time, or clear your throat while standing near him, which will momentarily break his focus from the target of his harassment.

Travis Lulay – A Few Ways to Be More Than A Bystander from EVA BC on Vimeo.

If you are in a crowd (remember, your own safety always comes first) you could call in support by saying something like, “Hey man, leave her alone”. You can also say something to the effect of: “that joke makes me uncomfortable. What you’re saying/doing is wrong.” Or, “What you’re doing is harassment, not only is it wrong, it’s criminal.”

And if you know the individual who is perpetrating the abuse, you could approach them when they are alone and say: “Something seems to be going on with you, can we talk?” or, “I care about you and was really surprised to see you act/behave/speak in such a violent/unhealthy way towards your partner.” Remind him that it doesn’t have to be this way and that you will assist in trying to find help for him.

When being more than a bystander, the most important consideration is that of safety. If there is immediate danger or you feel that intervening would be unsafe for you or others involved, it is best to not intervene yourself but to call the police and/or security…Know that violence is never a solution and will only aggravate and escalate a situation.

There are a lot more examples of situations and strategies on EVA’s website: www.endingviolence.org

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About the author

Jarrah Hodge

Jarrah Hodge is the founder and editor of gender-focus.com. She has also written for the Huffington Post, Bitch Magazine Blogs, the Vancouver Observer and About-Face. Jarrah has B.A. in Women’s Studies and Sociology from UBC. She’s a fan of politics, Star Trek, musical theatre, and brunch.

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