Empowering people to intervene when they witness unacceptable behavior can help to prevent domestic violence and abuse, a new study has found.
Specific training for bystanders makes them “significantly” more confident to take action when they see or hear wrongdoing related to domestic abuse in their community, according to the study, published in the journal BMC Public Health.
A total of 81% of participants reported being more likely to intervene when they saw wrongdoing after the training, this increased to 89% four months later.
Similar training has been used in universities in the UK and experts who developed the new program hope bystander training will now play a key role in domestic violence prevention work across the country. The training, called Active Bystander Communities, was led by Dr. Rachel Fenton at the University of Exeter and Alexa Gainsbury at Public Health England, and is a collaboration between University of Exeter Law School, Public Health England, Devon County Council, Bristol County Council, Splitz and the Hollie Gazzard Trust. It was piloted with 70 people in Exeter, Torquay and Gloucester.
Active Bystander Communities was designed to give people the knowledge and skills they need to be ‘active bystanders’ and intervene positively in potentially harmful situations. It was delivered in three two hour sessions by experienced facilitators. Participants learned how to notice harmful behavior alongside developing the skills to be able to intervene safely and effectively.
Surveys of participants immediately after the training showed a significant increase in confidence and intent to take action as well as a significant improvement in their ability to spot and reject myths about domestic abuse. A total of 87% of people who took part in the training were less likely to believe myths about domestic abuse afterwards. A total of 84% of participants said they felt more confident about intervening following the training.
Researchers found further improvement four months after training when participants had had the opportunity to take their learning out into their communities and take action.
Fenton said: “Bystander intervention is about empowering all members of the community to speak up and challenge gender inequality and the drivers of domestic abuse in a safe and situation-appropriate way. It’s about helping people to find their own way to make an impact and make a difference.”
For Fenton, “people in the community are ideally placed to respond to problematic behaviors and support individuals who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse because they have the relationships, insights and opportunities to make a real difference.”
Gainsbury at Public Health England said: “Preventing violence is everyone’s business and we are all aware of the devastating impact domestic abuse has on individuals, families and communities. Whilst we are clear that domestic violence and abuse should never happen, it is not always clear what we can do to stop it.”
She added that their follow-up research has found participants have been quick to put their training into action and have already carried out a wide range of bystander interventions from calling out sexist behavior to supporting victims of domestic abuse within their communities.
“From spreading the word that bystanders can make a difference to calling out harmful behaviours they see in everyday life and being a source of support to those experiencing abuse, the range of ways in which participants have enacted interventions since undertaking the training has been inspirational,” Gainsbury ended.