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Workshop looks at identifying, preventing risk of violent acts

by Don Campbell

Imagine that someone you know receives hundreds of text messages a day while having their Facebook account stalked. They know the person doing the stalking, but is that an excuse? Or is the behavior a clear sign of abuse?

This is just one of the many scenarios examined in a new violence prevention workshop called Green Dot currently offered at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

The workshop is a one-day, six-hour program that aims to reduce the risk of power-based personal violence such as sexual assault, partner abuse, bullying, stalking or any behaviour directed at someone that can be considered inappropriate.

In addition to identifying signs of violence – known as red dots – it looks at green dots, which are ways to reduce the risk of violence. “We examine tell-tale signs that certain bahaviour is inappropriate and unwelcome and explain what you can do to address it,” says Elsa Kiosses, UTSC’s health promotion nurse and workshop facilitator.

Developed by Dr. Dorothy Edwards at the University of Kentucky, the program is based on research into the bystander effect and why people do not get involved when violent acts occur. It emphasizes using the three Ds – Direct, Distract, or Delegate – as skills that can be used when witnessing potential violence.

“The program is for women and men, people in all positions on campus, especially students in leadership roles,” says Cheryl Champagne, an assault counsellor at the St. George campus who brought the program to the university.

“We all know the devastating effects of violence, especially the stigmatization. The aim of Green Dot is to prevent this from happening by providing the tools to confront violence before it happens,” says Champagne. “If this program can prevent even one person from being a victim, it will be a success.”

The workshop, which is being sponsored at UTSC by the campus police, also examines obstacles to becoming an active bystander and teaches skills to overcome those obstacles while staying safe.

There are a number of reasons a bystander may walk away from a suspected act of violence. They may be embarrassed to ask if the person needs help, or may wait for someone else to offer help first. They may even consider the behaviour non-violent because no one else offered help, or think the person brought the behaviour upon themselves.

In the case of stalking within a relationship, it’s hard for a bystander to identify the signs of unacceptable behaviour and even when they do it’s easier to ignore the situation entirely, says Kiosses.

“What if it was someone you loved dealing with that behavior? If they are unhappy or uncomfortable, is that something you would want them to experience? It’s an important thing to consider,” she says.

“This program is about bringing a community together and watching out for each other. By understanding your options, we hope people will choose to do something rather than nothing.”

The next Green Dot workshop at UTSC will take place over reading week. For more details including sign-up information, visit www.greendot.utoronto.ca