HEBRON, Ky. - With national statistics stating that one in three children are bullied in school every day, we often think, as a community, “This is a cultural norm.” We were bullied as kids, therefore, it is normal that our kids will be bullied as well. It’s just part of life, right?
What about other forms of violence? These same national statistics tell us that most violence is happening to our kids. Forty-four percent of all sexual assaults happen to children ages 12 to 18. One in four high school teens are involved in violent dating relationships. One in five girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused.
What’s amazing about this "accepted norm" is that, in reality, only a small percentage of people are perpetrators of violence. Most people are innately good, but a majority of us stand by and watch violence happen.
What if we were able to change the culture of violence? In essence, this would mean we would need a critical mass of people changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviors regarding violence. What we do know is that our teachers and parents are not the ones witnessing the majority violence - it’s our kids. There is a high number of kids who are regularly witnessing violence, and, as the saying goes, there is power in numbers, and that power can bring about opportunity to prevent violence from ever happening.
There is change coming and Kentucky is leading the nation in its efforts for violence prevention. A new program, called Green Dot, is a bystander intervention program that focuses on students leading the effort and intervening when they see signs that could potentially lead to violence. This includes bullying, stalking, dating violence, harassment and sexual assault.
Imagine a map of Kentucky ablaze with red dots. These red dots represent any form of violence or behaviors that are supportive of violence. A hit, a slap, a nasty Facebook post, sexual harassment, or someone who walks away when they see violence happening –these are all red dots.
A "green dot" is any thought, action, word or behavior that stops a red dot from ever appearing on our map. Safe intervention is a very important component of this program. No one is asking your child to physically intervene during a fight. Green Dot teaches children to recognize violence and safely intervene when there is a potential for violence.
Green Dot encourages students to think of the “3Ds” (direct action, distract, or delegate) when witnessing violence or the potential for violence. Confident or "type A” students might be able to address the problem directly, while shy bystanders who do not like recognition or confrontation could make an anonymous phone call or send a text to a friend. You can be just as effective by delegating, just letting someone know what is happening.
Dr. Dorothy Edwards, author of the Green Dot program, described the Green Dot program in a Newsweek article dated Oct. 30, 2009, titled “Bystanders No More.” This excerpt was taken from the article written by Johanna Cornblatt.
“For teenagers, who are often particularly concerned about social acceptance from their peers, Green Dot promotes distracting the perpetrator(s) as another option.” 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, Edwards 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.”
A research project is attached to this program, funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The University of Kentucky is conducting the research. The hope is that we can measurably reduce victimization of any form of violence.
Like any form of cultural change, it takes an entire community to change attitudes and beliefs. If you are a parent concerned about bullying in your school, are you involved in the solution? Are you modeling behavior that is conducive to promoting respect in your family? If you are a teacher, are you responding to the bystanders who are reporting abuse to you? As a school administrator, are you responding accordingly to incidents of violence? Are your school policies up to date? It takes a village.
For more information about Green Dot, visit http://www.livethegreendot.com/map.html
Ann Brandon is a senior educator for the Women's Crisis Center in Covington, Ky.