A group of young football players will be spending three days learning how they can help stop violence towards women.
The Don’t Be a Bystander program began five years ago with the CFL’s B.C. Lions. It has since spread to a few other organizations in the CFL.
Now, Football Saskatchewan is bringing the program to players with the U of S Huskies and the Saskatoon Hilltops.
Executive director Dianna Graves with Saskatchewan Sexual Assault Services said Don’t Be a Bystander uses videos and scenario-based presentations to teach men how they can defuse potential situations where women could be threatened.
“So, for example, if they are on a crowded bus, in a crowded lineup and they are noticing that there’s a young lady that’s visibly uncomfortable about being talked to from a guy that’s beside her, maybe touching her or whispering in her ear. They’re going to learn that all they have to do is walk up beside the girl and just stand beside her. Maybe say ‘hey, how are you doing?'”
Graves noted that Saskatchewan consistently has among the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the country. She said she hopes the program will help drive those numbers down.
Along with tools for intervening themselves, the 11 players taking part this year will also get the chance to talk to young people.
Former Hilltop and now Huskies linebacker Quinn Pierce said he’s looking forward to being a positive role model for boys.
“I remember growing up seeing a Husky or a Hilltop, I remember thinking ‘these are heroes in my life.’ And now, being a Husky and a Hilltop, I feel like I have the power now to have a voice,” he said.
Among the speakers helping with the training is former B.C. Lion and 2011 Grey Cup champion J.R. LaRose. He said he’s taking part because he wants to prevent the kind of violence he saw growing up on the One Arrow First Nation north of Saskatoon.
“I saw my mom being thrown down the stairs and that was the first time when I really witnessed violence and abuse firsthand. And I found myself in a position of not knowing what to do,” he said.
LaRose said Don’t Be a Bystander also carries a strong message for men about overall respect for women. He said he’s seen it change the locker-room culture for the Lions.
“We’ve been part of it for five years now. And when guys want to talk about what they ‘conquered’ over the weekend, you know, we have a strong leadership group with the B.C. Lions that people will say ‘we’re not about that on this team. That’s not acceptable, we’re not going to allow those type of conversations to take place,” he said.
Football Saskatchewan is running the Don’t Be a Bystander program with the help of a financial contribution from the Heather Ryan & L. David Dubé Foundation