Chapter 5 - Prevention of Sexual Misconduct

This chapter provides an overview and guidance for CAF members and for leadership teams on their roles and responsibilities in promoting a culture in which the prevention of sexual misconduct is widely accepted, expected, implemented, and supported.



  • 5.1. Prevention is defined as “the action of stopping something from happening or arising”.[1]


  • 5.2. The CAF is taking the following measures to prevent sexual misconduct from happening in the first place and to lessen the immediate and long-term harms of sexual misconduct:
  1. informing policy;
  2. institutionalizing prevention practices and programs;
  3. setting, communicating, and enforcing standards for appropriate conduct; and
  4. integrating prevention through a formal training and education framework, which is in place throughout a member’s career.
  • 5.3. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified three categories (or levels) of prevention of sexual misconduct: primary, secondary, and tertiary.


  • 5.4. Primary prevention focuses on approaches that take place before sexual misconduct has occurred to prevent initial perpetration or victimization.[2] Although increasing knowledge or awareness of sexual misconduct may be a feature of primary prevention, it is not a sufficient outcome. Primary prevention must also change behaviours.
  • 5.5. The overall goal of primary prevention is to reduce the actual incidence of sexual misconduct within the population. To achieve this, the strategy targets the factors that give rise to, or create the conditions for sexual misconduct, and aims to influence behaviour.
  • 5.6. The CAF has a number of programs and initiatives contributing to the primary prevention strategy, including the sustained engagement of the leadership cadre to provide a vision and consistent personal example that empowers and inspires subordinates, coaching and mentoring the leadership cadre, and embedding training and education activities throughout a member’s career.


  • 5.7. Secondary prevention strategies include the immediate responses to deal with the short-term consequences after sexual misconduct has occurred. The CAF has put into place victim support services as outlined in Chapter 4, as well as guidelines for responding to sexual misconduct as described in Chapter 3.


  • 5.8. Tertiary prevention focuses on the long-term responses after sexual misconduct has occurred, and deals with both the lasting consequences of misconduct, and identifying and holding perpetrators accountable.[3]


  • 5.9.The CAF has committed to ensure that required supports are there and they include appropriate reporting and investigative mechanisms, protection from reprisals, confidentiality to the extent permissible by law, medical and emotional care, and responding decisively against those who cause harm. Each of these elements is a key component to preventing further and more serious incidents from occurring for both the individual who made the complaint, the victim, and other potential victims. Moreover, there is clear evidence that getting early support for an incident leads to a quicker restoration of well-being for the individuals as well as the units involved.



  • 5.10. Primary prevention involves intervening before sexual misconduct has occurred. Bystanders are individuals who observe inappropriate behaviour or witness the conditions that perpetuate sexual misconduct, and are potentially in position to discourage, prevent, or interrupt an incident. [4]
  • 5.11. Bystander intervention is the act of feeling empowered and equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively assist in the prevention of sexual misconduct. Bystander intervention does not have to jeopardize the safety of the bystander.[5] Bystander intervention training is intended to assist people in developing the awareness, skills, and courage needed to intervene in a situation when another individual needs help; it sends a powerful message about what is acceptable and expected behaviour. It also gives individuals the skills to be an effective and supportive ally to victims after an assault has taken place.[6]


  • 5.12. “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.” This was the headline of the Times article in 1964, which described a horrifying scenario where numerous witnesses watched a man stalk, sexually assault, and murder “Kitty” Genovese over the course of three separate attacks. Notwithstanding later clarification that the number of witnesses was proven to be exaggerated, there is no question that the attack occurred, and the fact that neighbours ignored cries for help.
  • 5.13. The article and ensuing outrage led to wide-spread research and discussion of the social-psychological phenomenon that later become known as the bystander effect or bystander apathy, including a “diffusion of responsibility”, where people in a crowd are less likely to step forward and help a victim.


  • 5.14. Research has shown that the reluctance of bystanders to act can often be attributed to one of two factors: the ‘diffusion of responsibility effect’, where the presence of other people leads individuals to assume that someone else will step in or already has, or ‘the power of social norms’, in which people observe others’ reactions to evaluate the severity of a situation and follow what the rest of the group is doing.


  • 5.15. In hundreds of bystander studies, a few anomalies stand out when bystanders actually helped the victim. When the groups observing an emergency were friends, they were more likely to help than when bystanders were strangers to each other. They were particularly likely to help when the person in need of help was someone they saw as similar to them in an important way.[7]
  • 5.16. Some social scientists believe that unselfishness, not aggression, is programmed into our human genome. On United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, passengers took their fate into their own hands and together joined against the hijackers to attempt to save, if not the plane, then the intended target of the plane. Overcoming bystander apathy in such dire circumstances takes unbelievable courage, but it is clearly within our human potential to do so.


  • 5.17. There are hundreds of comments, progressive actions, harassments, and other forms of abuse that can lead to a sexually violent act. Chapter 2 described events as being on a spectrum, or a continuum of behaviours that demand interventions at each step. At one end of the spectrum are healthy, respectful, and safe behaviours. At the other end of the spectrum are sexual assault and other violent behaviours. If we limit our interventions to a culminating “event,” we miss multiple opportunities to do something or say something before a behaviour or a situation escalates and moves to the right along the spectrum.
  • 5.18. Always remember that you are not intervening because you are a hero, or because you are being chivalrous, or because you want to be patted on the back. You are intervening because it is the right thing to do, because it is required of all CAF members, and it is a meaningful way to do your part in ending sexual misconduct.


  • Step 1

    Notice an occurrence along the spectrum of behaviours. Some questions to ask could include:
  • What is the context? For example, is this part of a pattern between these (two) people? What just happened before this situation? Is this part of a pattern in society generally?
  • Who has the most power in this situation? For example, can the person in this situation leave freely? Is someone under pressure? Has everyone given their consent?
  • What is the impact on the person in the situation? For example, how is their physical and mental health affected? Will other people see them differently as a result of what is happening?
  • Step 2.

    Decide that something is amiss or unacceptable.
  • Step 3

    Take personal responsibility.
  • If no one intervenes, what will likely happen?
  • Is someone else better placed to respond?
  • What would be my purpose in responding?
  • Step 4.

    Assess your options for giving help (See Bystander Intervention Strategies).
  • Step 5.

    Determine the potential risks of acting.
  • Are there risks to myself? (See Recognize the reasons why people DON’T get involved)
  • Are there risks to others (e.g. potential retaliation against the person being "helped")?
  • How do I approach the situation in a friendly way so that I do not further escalate the situation?
  • Is there a low-risk option?
  • How could I reduce risks?
  • Is there more information I can get to better assess the situation?
  • How can I create more options for the person experiencing violence?
  • Step 6

  • In all cases, a successful bystander intervention will provide more options for the person experiencing the sexual misconduct. It is important to note that bystander intervention should be seen as a sort of “first-aid” for sexual misconduct, and will unfortunately not address the root causes of the incident of sexual misconduct; and
  • It is also important to note that the strategy used by a bystander will depend on the context, and the bystander’s confidence level. The important point to remember is that there is no bad bystander intervention, as any action on behalf of the bystander is better than none. With practice, jumping in as a bystander becomes easier, and just like any skill or habit, people become more comfortable and creative in how to diffuse situations.


  • 5.19. The following list of intervention strategies is by no means exhaustive. Use your judgment, common sense and consider your own strengths and weaknesses.



Name or acknowledge an example of sexual misconduct, and
open a dialogue for discussion

Name or identify inappropriate behaviour so it is not just glossed over or ignored.

Publicly support a victimized person

Help someone who has been the target of sexual misconduct, and/or prevent further injury or offense.

Use body language to show disapproval

Refuse to join in when derogatory, degrading, abusive, and violent attitudes or behaviours are being displayed. Crossing arms, looking away, or facial expressions are all examples of this.

Interrupt the behaviour

Intervention may be direct and obvious, such as stating directly to the offending person that the behaviour is unacceptable. Intervention can also be via subterfuge, such as interrupting an argument to ask for directions.

Use humour (with care)

If you are witty, this may fit with your style. Be careful, not to be so witty that you end up mocking or making light of your own feelings or reactions.
Funny does not mean unimportant.

Talk privately with the person who acted inappropriately

Give clear feedback and express your opinion calmly and privately. 

Talk privately with the person who is the target of the perpetrator

Express your opinion calmly and offer your support. 

Ask for help directly or indirectly

Make sure that something is done, while acknowledging that you do not have the skill or capacity to handle it. You can talk with your immediate supervisor, to the aggressor’s immediate supervisor, to your unit harassment advisor, to the RSM, or to the CO, for example.

Figure 5: Bystander Intervention Strategies


[2]Sexual violence prevention: beginning the dialogue. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2004.

[3] The CDC considers “intervention” as any prevention or service-related activity in this context.

[4] Banyard, V. L., Plante, E. G., & Moynihan, M. M. (2004). Bystander education: Bringing a broader community perspective to sexual violence prevention. Journal of Community Psychology, 32, 61–79.

[5] Katz, J. (2011, December 01). Penn State: The mother of all teachable moments for the bystander approach.

[6] National Sexual Violence Resource Center, (2011). It’s time to incorporate the bystander approach into sexual violence prevention. Retrieved from National Sexual Violence Resource Center website:

[7] The responsive bystander: how social group membership and group size can encourage as well as inhibit bystander intervention. Levine & Crowther, 2008.

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