Originally published on Couch Assassin.
You're out on the town, at a bar. From the corner of your eye, you notice two people. The situation seems funny to you; One of them looks uncomfortable. Maybe like they're stuck in an unpleasant, possibly dangerous situation. Something definitely doesn't seem right. So what do you do?
Introducing Project Soundcheck. This initiative was brought to life after a study came out from the Ottawa Hospital that one in four sexual assaults take place in mass gatherings. After this study was released, the Sexual Assault Network (SAN) and the Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) put a proposal together and they received funding from Crime Prevention Ottawa to create and deliver bystander intervention at local music festivals.
Kira-Lynn Ferderber is the project lead of Project Soundcheck. She was hired in April as a consultant to organize and deliver the training. She has been teaching anti-bullying anti-homophobia workshops and been involved in anti-violence activism and feminist activism for a long time. She is also a performer and rapper in Ottawa.
The project's first phase began this past summer, with events such as Canada Day in Kanata, Bluesfest, Escapade and Arboretum Festival. Phase two of the project was launched in September and included events such as CityFolk, Ottawa Burlesque Festival, House of PainT and Nuit Blanche.
As Ferderber explained, the training touches upon different kinds of things that can happen that could potentially lead to sexual violence. "The kind of training I do is called bystander intervention. People might picture this as making a dramatic scene, and them coming in running in a situation, punching someone or trying to rescue someone. But we're not trying to create violence and you can actually intervene effectively by talking and checking in."
If you're in a public space, and you see two people and you feel concerned for one of them, you can intervene without confrontation or accusation. Going up to someone and saying "Hey, how's it going?" or "How's your night going?" is a good way to let people know that you see them and that you are there. For the perpetrator, now they know that people are looking at them. For the person potentially in trouble, if they were hoping to ask someone for help but they don't know who, now they have an ally. "Sometimes, people who want to intervene don't want to confront someone, especially if they are wrong and that everything is fine," added Ferderber. "If you say to someone "Hey, how's your night?", it's not a big deal. That's why it's called Project Soundcheck [...] We check in to make sure everyone is safe and sound."
Another technique that works is to create a distraction. You can use this technique to engage the person you're worried about or you can use it to engage the person whose behaviour you're worried about. This gives an opportunity to the person (potentially) in trouble to leave the problematic situation. This technique doesn't take as much courage; you can act like oblivious, like you don't know anything is wrong.
Right now, the training is focused on staff and volunteers of local music festival. Ferderber envisions the project growing to eventually include patrons and artists to receive this type of training. For Bluesfest and Escapade, Ferderber's team attend the volunteer orientation session in order to give the training. Volunteers received handouts, which included a small cards with cliff notes. The cards include tips and tricks as well as a list of resources. The card is a good reminder of what is discussed at the training but also serves for volunteers who missed the orientation sessions. The feedback that the team has received so far has been positive. Ferderber would love to see this expand. Other places in Ontario have inquired about the project. "Every festival can benefit from this kind of training."
"The goal of the project is ending sexual violence but if sexual violence still happens, we want to have a good, effective response to it. We're trying to make Ottawa festivals safer but we're also that hoping people will use these skills when they leave Ottawa. They might use them at another festival they attend in another city. They might need to use them when they're volunteering at Bluesfest but they might need to use them in January when they're in a bar in the market." If someone hears about an incident that has already happened or if something happens in another setting, they can use the resources and tips that they have learned during the training.
There are many resources in Ottawa for those who need them, including the Sexual Assault Support Centre and the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre, who both have crisis lines that you can call. OCTEVAW's website is a great source of information with many resources listed. If people are planning a festival or big event in Ottawa, SAN is still available to provide training, free of charge. Kira-Lynn can give training to your staff or volunteers. The sessions vary from event to event and the training can be customized accordingly to what the needs of the volunteers are. So what's next? The project is hoping to expand and possibly release a podcast on some issues, including bystander intervention and racism.
"Music festivals have the potential to be a safe space. because there are a lot of people to help you if you're in trouble. But they can also make people feel invisible in a crowd, they feel like that they can get away with something because everyone thinks that someone else will do something to stop it." Therefore, we all have a role to play in ensuring everyone's safety.