Program to plant seeds for preventing sexual assault

By Alice Haymond

Imagine walking into a bar as a stumbling drunk woman walks out; she is leaning on a man she does not seem to know very well, and he suggests she go back to his place.

A group of students are training people this weekend to do more in that situation than shake their heads and continue walking. The leaders from the group Students Educating and Empowering to Develop Safety will teach intervention skills to use when a woman nearby may be in danger.

“It’s not ‘how not to be a victim’ or ‘how not to be a perpetrator,’ ” said Marigail Sexton, communications and program development coordinator at UK’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center. “What this conference is about is being the bystander, the other person in this mix, and that’s all of us.”

Anyone can sign up for the daylong SEEDS conference. Participants will learn about the social issues that affect violence against women at UK and then divide into groups to think through different scenarios.

“We do a lot of role playing where we set up situations and we help other people be comfortable intervening,” said Kristen Lambert, a sociology junior who will be a group facilitator at the conference.

Issues of sexual violence, partner violence and stalking are prevalent at UK, Sexton said. One in three women will experience at least one of those situations during their time on campus, according to a 2007 study by UK’s Center for Research on Violence Against Women.

But people might not take those crimes as seriously as other types of crimes, she said, and SEEDS is looking at what bystanders can do to change that way of thinking.

After attending two conferences, Lambert said the skills she has practiced have helped her explain situations such as date rape to people without becoming angry at them if they tend to blame a victim.

“It’s all research-based, so I have solid evidence to fall back on when people ask questions about how I know,” she said.

Sexton encouraged men to sign up for the conference. In the past, men made up about 40 percent of the participants, and this year more than half the group facilitators are men, she said.

“What we know is that most men aren’t perpetrators,” she said. “We want them to understand that there’s a place for them at the table; there’s a place for them to be involved in this issue.”

Sign-ups for the conference, which will last from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, are available at the VIP Center Web site (

The benefits from the conference are simple and important, Lambert said. It teaches how to “prevent violence without changing your major, studying psychology, or working at the VIP Center for the rest of your life, but by just doing it in your everyday life,” she said.