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Can Bystander Intervention Lead to False Reporting?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Sep 21, 2021 | 0 Comments

Some well-intentioned programs have unexpected—and potentially life-ruining—consequences.

In 2013, Congress amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 to include the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (Campus SaVE) Act, which requires all federally-funded colleges to provide sexual violence prevention programs, including “safe and positive options for bystander intervention.”

These policies are meant to reduce the number of victims, but some of them fall short.

What is Bystander Intervention—and Does it Work?

Bystander intervention is recognizing and intervening in potentially dangerous situations to prevent violence.

This is positive—in theory. The training enables a bystander to step in and diffuse a situation if they see someone being taken advantage of or in distress. But it's not that simple. A thorough review of bystander intervention training has shown that, while these programs temporarily increase the likelihood of intervention, there is no evidence that they actually prevent sexual violence.

But the problem goes beyond mere ineffectiveness. This type of training may actually be harmful.

When Bystander Intervention Goes Wrong

In 2016, the University of Denver expelled “John Doe” after a fellow student “Jane Roe” accused him of sexual assault. Roe did not immediately report the alleged rape but filed a complaint after discussing the incident with friends.

Did Roe have consensual sex with Doe, only to be later convinced by her protective friends that she was raped? Did these “bystanders” take intervention too far?

As Doe later filed a suit against the university for sex-based discrimination (a violation of Title IX), it would appear so, claiming they exhibited anti-male bias. On June 15, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Doe presented sufficient evidence of discrimination.

Doe's expulsion cost him time and money he cannot get back, potentially affecting his future opportunities. In short, the accused became the victim.

This injustice could have been prevented. Jane Roe's unfounded claims of sexual assault may never have happened without bystander intervention.

Bystander Intervention and Bias

It's easy to see why bystander intervention could cause more problems than it solves. With mandatory intervention training, colleges may be pushing a “knight in shining armor” narrative—making students eager to play the hero.

The dangers only increase given the tendency to see what one wants to see, also called motivated perception. Human bias makes it easy to jump to conclusions, especially if there is an incentive to see things a specific way. With college bystander intervention, the incentive could be praise or high self-esteem.

Motivated by the desire to look good or “save” others, students can easily take bystander intervention too far.

National Title IX Attorney Joseph Lento Can Protect Your Rights

Bystander intervention can easily lead to false allegations and wreak havoc on your future, as John Doe discovered first-hand. If you've been accused of campus sexual assault, the Lento Law Firm can help. Title IX Attorney Joseph Lento offers years of experience advocating for his clients across the United States and is skilled at working with colleges to find a fair resolution.

To schedule a consultation, call 888-555-3686, or use the online form.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients nationwide. Attorney Lento and his team represent students and others in disciplinary cases and various other proceedings at colleges and universities across the United States. Attorney Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States, and when necessary, he and his team have sought justice on behalf of clients in courts across the nation. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide, and he can help you or your student address any school-related issue or concern anywhere in the United States.

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