Can Teen Classes Cure Bystander Inaction?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

News of the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl at a Richmond Calif. high school dance has rocked national news this week, as well as spurred discussion about why dozens of bystanders did nothing to stop the attack. Now, Newsweek has done a piece on "bystander education" programs being implemented in high schools across the country.

While the Richmond Calif. incident is an extreme case of bystanders refusing to take action, this passive reaction toward violence is by no means an abnormality of human behavior, the article explains. That's why a growing number of schools are training their students in the importance of bystander intervention to prevent potentially violent or dangerous situations.

Training like the Green Dot program, now in 20 states, give student bystanders more options than just watching or jumping in the middle of the fray:

Green Dot encourages students to think of the "3Ds" (direct action, delegation, or distraction) when witnessing violence. While socially confident students might be able to address the problem directly, shy bystanders could make an anonymous phone call, send a text to a friend, or divert the perpetrator...One student who completed the Green Dot bystander training later prevented one of his friends from taking advantage of an intoxicated girl at a party by telling him that the police were towing his car outside, says Dorothy Edwards, director of the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center at the University of Kentucky recalls. The friend, who had been in the process of persuading the girl to accompany him upstairs, stopped what he was doing and ran outside to check on his car. By the time he came back, the girl's friends had taken her home. "Most people want to do the right thing," Edwards says. "You can't just say to teenagers that it shouldn't have mattered if they were afraid to stand up in front of their friends--because it does matter. We need to give people a broader tool chest that takes into account their obstacles."

The Newsweek article also says that some sexual-violence prevention experts believe that to create a tipping point of participative public behavior, laws need to be in place to prevent bystanders from walking away from a crime scene.

But since even people with good intentions sometimes stand quietly on the sidelines, Impact wonders whether laws dictating bystander behavior is the answer. Would we instead be better off teaching our children to modify their skills and behaviors in these situations? Tell us what you think.

You can also read more about the current bystander crime prevention programs available in the U.S. and how to get involved with them: