A Reality TV Show Highlights the Real Importance of Bystander Intervention

Rumors are swirling on social media and tabloids following the news that a popular reality TV show may be canceled due to alleged sexual misconduct. We don't know exactly what happened, but we do know someone should have stopped it. 

by Alexa Herman and Carly Klinenberg

Hook-up culture is a driving source of drama and intrigue on the hit series The Bachelor and spin-off shows The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise. Contestants eagerly flirt, make-out, and have sex. This behavior is normal and expected, on set and in college. We see it at parties and in bars, two students excited to see where a night will lead. But when alcohol gets involved, a “hook-up” may deserve another name: sexual assault.

Filming of the upcoming season of Bachelor in Paradise has been suspended due to allegations of sexual misconduct. According to E!, production of the popular ABC show is being halted following a drunken sexual encounter on set. LA Times reporter Amy Kaufman says on Twitter that a producer filed a third-party complaint after witnessing two contestants engage in sexual behavior while clearly too intoxicated to consent.

A source within the show stated to People Magazine that “the show absolutely values the primacy of consent, and this instance it appears as though conduct allegedly occurred without the proper consent having been given.”

That’s a pretty convoluted statement to understand. But what is clear from various reports is that the two contestants had been drinking heavily, so much that DeMario was too intoxicated to engage in sexual intercourse. By definition, no one who is that drunk can give consent. So if the show “values the primacy of consent,” why didn’t anyone step in to stop this?

Perhaps it’s because the show and its producers value ratings over ethics. According to People Magazine and TMZ, the sexual misconduct involved previous “villains” on the Bachelor and Bachelorette. TMZ reported that the producers encouraged the sexual act because the show would be able to promote the villain hook up--a dramatic storyline for viewers. Instead of reminding fans to “tune in next week,” the show is inadvertently highlighting the importance of bystander intervention. It’s a lesson we, as a society, ought to learn.  

In college, as on reality TV, drunken sexual encounters are the norm. But there’s a line between buzzed and black-out. Bystander intervention is absolutely crucial in these situations—if just one of Bachelor in Paradise contestant or producer had stepped in, this would not be a part of today’s news cycle. When facing similar conditions at a college party, it’s critical that students stand up and say something.

Parties where many people are drinking and flirting can be chaotic, and determining people’s sobriety levels and desire to partake in sexual encounters is a challenge. Being able to check in with friends and ensure that all parties are able to consent if they wish is incredibly important. In an instance where you think that a friend (or even a stranger!) may not be able to consent, you can distract, direct, and delegate to get them out of an uncomfortable encounter. Distracting entails creating a diversion, for example spilling a drink and asking the person you think might be in a questionable situation to help you clean it up. You can also be direct and pull the person aside and ask if he or she is okay. If you’re not comfortable intervening on your own, point out the situation to a friend or a sober monitor and ask them for help.  

Bachelor in Paradise may be a Monday night tradition with friends and a popular reality TV show. But in this case, the series presents real life lessons on the value of consent and stepping in when someone needs help. On The Bachelor, contestants vie for the rose—a “yes” to continue the relationship. That focus on affirmative consent should carry over to all aspects of the Bachelor franchise, and extend to the millions of weekly viewers.

Alexa Herman and Carly Klinenberg are JWI summer interns.