Bystander Training without Self-Defense Training: Teaching Protection of Others without Teaching Self-Protection

Sociologist Jennifer Carlson (who also published in our 2014 special issue of Violence Against Women) has a new book called Citizen Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline (Oxford University Press, 2015).  In this engaging read Carlson argues that today’s advocates for carrying guns do not just embrace a right to self-defense but the moral obligation to protect fellow citizens.  We agree with Prof. Carlson that both extreme pro-gun and extreme anti-gun groups frame women as helpless, ignoring the efficacy of unarmed self-defense strategies in women’s lives.  And while some debate whether they carry a gun only to defend themselves or also to defend fellow citizens (including strangers), in light of the citizen-protector model we find the current fad on college campuses of teaching bystander-intervention techniques interesting.  Bystander-intervention programs teach people to intervene to stop acts of interpersonal violence they witness in progress.  Such bystander intervention is touted as the way to teach responsible community membership.  But these programs would do well to consider a balance of protecting others as good samaritans and protecting one’s self.  We therefore see it as extremely short-sighted for college campuses to champion bystander-intervention training without also championing self-defense training for those most likely to need to intervene on their own behalf.

2 responses

  1. Right on as usual!

  2. Bystander intervention can be a spectrum of responses to a threat. The first level of intervention can be simply notifying police / security providing location information, descriptions of the criminals or their vehicles etc. The next level is deterring / defeating the assailant(s). You are correct: training is key, and confidence built through realistic scenarios seems to really help students.

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