Harassment and Sexual Assault at Australian Universities
The results of the Human Rights Commissions survey on harassment and sexual assault on Australian campuses has just been released. The results are shocking and there's much that needs to be done to change the culture on campuses across the nation.
One of the focusses has been the role of bystander response. Community leaders are asking people if they see something to do something. The worst things we can do is do nothing. There are a few reasons people don't intervene and I attribute that to the passive mindset.
For men, I think the culture is such that if you oppose something you become an outsider very quickly, and many men fear that. Opposing the leaders in a group would be met with "you're dogging the boys mate." This shame or fear of being seen as the guy who's intervening can prevent men from standing and intervening in situations they know isn't right. This is one of the roadblocks for effective bystander response and it needs to be addressed. If we are rejected for doing what is right then we are in the wrong group of friends hands down.
Looking at solutions for the problem we have I reckon one of the best things we can do is learn the social skill required to intervene. Losing the fear of social rejection is another important thing. Intervening in a situation you know isn't right is one of the most assertive things a person can do. The results of that intervention can alter the course of someone's life forever.
The results of the survey are only a snap shot of 30+K students at Universities in Australia. Think for a moment the scale of society, think of the many places men and women interact and make social connections. How much is it happening in other places like work, social clubs, sporting clubs and in homes? I'm sure the numbers would be staggering.
Being assertive is important in this discussion because a lack of assertiveness is a contributing factor in the problems we have. If you're assertive you aren't harassing or sexually assaulting people. Assertiveness is about respect, respecting consent and respecting the personal space and body of someone else. To sexually harass or assault is an act of aggression and a blatant disregard for the well-being of another person. Sitting by and watching bad things happen is passive, non-assertive behaviour. It is assertive to say "this isn't right, we need to stop this, now."
The universities have outlined some positives steps they are going to take to change the situation. They assured victims their voices will be heard and that efforts will be made to change the culture on University campuses. Students can be proactive and get on board with the initiatives and make a commitment to change. Take it personally that these things are happening on our campuses. To think things like this are happening at my University brings me feelings of shame. I want to have a campus that is known for respect and high-quality education.
University can be a rewarding and empowering experience, I know it has been for me but that is not possible in an environment of harassment. The incoming head of the Human Rights Commission Professor Rosalind Croucher said that students "want to feel safe, they want to feel respected and they want others to acknowledge the pain of their experience." The more assertive young people are in their interactions with their peers the more safety and respect will permeate through their relationships and through our Universities. If we achieve this we will create the ideal learning environments at our Universities and hopefully, we can carry the culture of assertiveness as respect into the workplace.
Assertive Life 2016-10-24