Winona State University implements bystander intervention progra - KXLT - Fox 47 Rochester MN News, Weather, Sports #rochmn

Winona State University implements bystander intervention program

 WINONA, Minn. (FOX 47) - Nationwide sexual assault statistics are staggering. It is estimated that one in four women that attends college or university will become a victim of sexual assault or rape during her college career. President Obama has created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to address the incidents nationwide. With the help of a competitive grant from the Department of Justice, Winona State University is one college taking steps to better protect it's students this year.

"Finally people are saying, this needs to stop, this is a problem. And we can, I don't know if we'll ever totally eliminate everything, but it's gotten out of hand and I don't think that's unfair to humanity, truthfully," said Heather Gerdes from the Women's Resource Center of Winona. The grant has allowed her to spend half her time working with the university to oversee the new prevention programs.

"I read an article once that said, would a parent send their student to a campus if they had heard that one in four students would be hit by a bus? Why would you send your son or daughter there? And that what it is with sexual assault, why would you want to do that," explained Becca Johnson, a graduate assistant with the gender-based violence program, "all universities are dealing with this problem, and we're lucky enough to have a little funding to back us to deal with this problem." 

Winona State University received a grant from the Department of Justice to be one of the few schools in the country to rejuvenate a gender-based violence prevention program with emphasis on bystander intervention.

"Bystander intervention is a way to just have, to take that pressure off somebody who would potentially become the victim. When you're in a situation or you're in an atmosphere you know what's going on and if you see something that looks a little uncomfortable for one person or the other, stepping in and making yourself present in that moment and removing or deescalating the situation," said Gerdes. "It's being an active bystander. It's taking action if you see a stranger, a friend, a family member, a classmate, in a situation that is uncomfortable, or could be uncomfortable and also deals with helping a survivor after," added Johnson.

Gerdes and Johnson have been working together to create a program that they say can last. "We'll be here to stay for our campus and our community and then we'll have a better sense in a couple years of exactly what happened with the bystander intervention," said Gerdes. "We're trying to do something that's more full of impact so we have a video and it's titled, Who Are You, and it shows a scene, leading up to an assault, and it goes back and it zooms through and it rewinds and it shows where someone could've intervened," continued Johnson, "and merely it's just a discussion, we want students to start thinking about it."

Gerdes said she hopes for the program to have a positive impact on the community. "I'm happy that finally people are doing something about it and speaking up. At least it's a conversation that people are starting to have, even though it's a difficult one. It's an important conversation and we need to teach everybody, not just the young, I think even the older people and everyone in between should know how this really can effect people. I think we can make a big change in a positive way."

The grant was part of the White House Task Force's new effort to curb gender-based and sexual violence on college campuses. Winona State University is one of a handful of universities across the country introducing new programs this fall in an attempt to meet the task. In Rochester, Victim's Services is also implementing programs with similar messages in the high schools

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