In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge 2017) author Katie Gentile discusses the positive role which a bystander can have in rape prevention. She first discusses the concept of “informed” consent in the context of a psychoanalytic or psychotherapeutic relationship. She writes as follows:
Consent is the line articulating some forms of sexual misconduct and it comes even more powerful in the context of psychoanalysis. Consent is so important we have even created an additional level for research and clinical work, called “informed” consent. Legally, consent can only operate between positions of equal cognitive capacity and implies a subject with only conscious and non-contradictory motivations and intentions. In this legal context there is no evolution of desire (Saketopoulou, 2011) or temporal multiplicity of experiencing (Gentile, 2013a; 2015). But in the psychoanalytic context where regression is taken quite seriously, patients can only exercise consent initially, when the frame of the analytic treatment is being negotiated. Once the treatment is in progress, consent to any changes in the relationship could be seen as a function of transference or/and countertransference. In order to be a political person capable of consent one needs protected areas of fantasy, desire, and public imagination (Cornell, 1995, in Skerritt, 2011). Blechner (2014) describes seduction as the patient’s role, and the analysis of it as that of the analyst. If the analyst enacts this transference it is not the patient who has seduced the analyst but the analyst who has seduced the patient. A psychoanalytic dyad could be seen as a means to the development of the capacity for consent for the patient, but by definition, the relationship is not based on equal capacities in the moment.
Certainly withholding this capacity for consent from patients can be disempowering and patronizing. This can sting in a neoliberal world that clings to the fetish of self –regulation and unfettered individualistic agency (Layton, 2012; Gentile, 2013b). In this cultural context to question consent is to undermine coherent and legible subjectivity. But we are not individual subjects, as relational psychoanalysis in particular knows (Bromberg, 1998; Mitchell, 2000; Aron, 1996) and many other theorists also espouse (Deleuze & Guttari, 1977, 1987; Barad, 2010). Most important, the frame is based on unequal power. It is the analyst who defines the time, the fee (even when negotiated). Moreover, the psychoanalytic relationship is one formed by dynamics of power that are carefully articulated by “the frame.” Even in the most relational approach it is the analyst who ends the session after 45 minutes and collects the fee. In boundary violating sexual misconduct the professional fails to uphold their end of the bargain. Consent is irrelevant.
Clearly college settings differ from psychoanalytic spaces in a number of ways, but training institutes can take note of what the academy has found helpful and most effective (understanding that efficacy in this area is complex and difficult to measure). Given the requirements of patient confidentiality, the legalities of boundary violations, and the threat to ones livelihood, bystander invention might be easier to apply than restorative justice. Although I think the latter is important to conceptualize. Just imagine an institute successfully engaging a form of restorative justice to address a boundary violation. What would that look like to have an offender held within the community, not exiled as the identified cancer to the otherwise “pure” and “innocent” community? Could there be remorse, apology, and a community circle holding the offender accountable? Could the patient/supervisee/victim work with the community to create forms of apology? If offenders are held in the community wouldn’t that make it so much easier for someone on the slippery slope, someone struggling in the rip tide, to ask for help? And such an atmosphere would make the work of a bystander so much easier in terms of identifying, engaging and addressing a potential offender.
Using what we know from psychoanalytic theory about the repetition of violence and trauma it should not come as a surprise that situating prevention and intervention within a community can be effective. After all community based interventions hail community members through their capacities to be agentic and powerful bystanders. Additionally such a model of organizing communicates clearly articulated procedures for reporting (including transparent ramifications and consequences of reporting), transparent protocols for intervention and accountability that is consistent and apparent to the community, including maintaining a clear channel of communication throughout the “timely” investigation. This transparency is extremely important within a cultural context of confidentiality. Modeling how confidentiality is generative (through psychoanalytic process) and when it needs to be dispensed with for the good of the community is therapeutic in and of itself. Holding secrets and/or being inconsistent collapses the bystander agency, pulling the community back into the rigid position of victim/perpetrator and functions to create more anxiety and dissociation (Wallace, 2007). It renders the community helpless. This is extremely important since it is the body of the community that needs to be used to collectively contain and process shame, accountability and remorse.