How can you prevent sexual assault? Web comic 'game' has advice

With this choose-your-own-adventure online comic, students discover how their decisions can ignite or diffuse uncomfortable sexual situations.

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
3 min read

Catcalling is a form of sexual assault. But how should you react when it happens to you? Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Teaching young people how to protect themselves and their friends from becoming victims of sexual assault isn't easy. Educators either run the risk of not providing useful information or doing it in an outdated format.

However, Carnegie Mellon University students have created "Decisions That Matter: An Interactive Experience" -- part web comic, part game -- to help guide other students into making better choices when confronted with sexual issues in real-world scenarios.

In the comic, you are a first year undergrad who deals with a variety of situations that could be construed or misunderstood as sexual harassment or assault. Your role in the story is as a friend watching the events unfold, and hopefully prompt you to take action to see firsthand how bystander intervention works.

At the start of the comic, your gal pals call you to meet for lunch. On the way, they are catcalled by a stranger who wants to show them "a real good time tonight." It's up to you as a bystander to confront the stranger or ignore him. What do you do as opposed to what should you do? The answers aren't always obvious.

Sitting down with your friends at lunch -- a mix of both guys and girls -- one of them makes a pass under the table at another. As a bystander, do you call it out as a bad thing or make a joke. Or should you wait until your friend is alone and ask if she was okay with what happened?

The interactive comic ends at a college party where music, dancing and beer are the norm. When you see one of your guy friends get too frisky too quickly with a gal pal, do you interrupt them or let them be? Should you be a good friend and ask if she's okay? Or is it none of your business?

When you witness a friend getting too hands-on with a gal pal, what would you do? Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

The interactive story is tailored to the choices you make. When the comic finishes, the two main characters in question go from being illustrated as comic characters to video of real-life humans that say thank you for stepping in before they made life-altering mistakes.

"It's so easy for people to say, 'Well, I wouldn't have gone to that place in the first place,' and that's so victim-blaming," Jessica Klein, CMU's coordinator of gender programs and sexual violence prevention, told the Huffington Post.

"You don't know what you would do unless you're actually in that situation. [In this game], you're confronting what you actually might do in that situation."

The comic game also can be played back in different ways if you want to see what would have happened if you made other choices during the story.

While the game has yet to include scenarios regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and 'queer' (LGBTQ) relationships, domestic violence, stalking or date rape via doping drinks, "Decisions That Matter" is off to a good start in addressing why it's important for friends to check in with each other at parties or even just to say something in awkward sexual situations instead of remaining silent.

As a friend, it's your responsibility to say something when you see a friend in over her head at a party. Or is it? Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET