Experts: Bystander intervention is the key to a safe Spring Break


As thousands of central Ohio students prepare to embark on Spring Break, crime prevention experts say it's important to talk about the value of bystander intervention.

Case in point, in Panama City Beach in 2015, police said they were "horrified" when a video surfaced of a mostly unconscious woman being gang-raped on the beach.

The video showed hundreds of people standing around doing nothing to help the victim. Panama City responded by banning alcohol on the beach in the month of March.

A study by the US Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found 44 percent of women, and 75 percent of men, reported getting drunk every day on Spring Break. Half of them say they binge drink until they pass out.

"What's important for the community to know about alcohol consumption and violence is that perpetrators target vulnerability," said Susan Wismar, Prevention Coordinator for the Ohio Health Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio. "For so long, we've tried to end violence by saying if you're a vulnerable person, be less vulnerable."

Spring Break revelry can fuel a false sense of security, but police say violent crimes can and do, happen. In Panama City, police intercepted three videos posted on social media of the sexual assaults of women who were incoherent. Several years ago, police in Daytona Beach received six rape reports in one week.

But Wismar says preventing sexual assaults is far more complex than urging your spring breaker to go easy on the booze. She says bystander intervention and empowering yourself to check in when a person appears vulnerable and needs help, is the best way to prevent crimes of violence.

"It is every one of your jobs to take care of each other, and make sure everybody is safe," said Wismar.

To learn more about SARNCO's Rape Hotline and Sexual Violence Prevention Program, click here.