“I don’t want to get involved.” “It’s not my problem.” “It was probably their fault anyway. What could I do?”
When we talk about violence and abuse, maybe these are some of the responses we think of first. Why?
Recently I completed a three-day course in violence prevention run by Dr Shannon Spriggs, a Research Fellow within Griffith’s Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance and Convenor of the Mentors in Violence Prevention program.
I’m naturally a non-confrontational person. I don’t like getting involved in other people’s business and I’m a fairly small (though strong) girl.
Previously, if anyone had asked whether I might become involved were I witnessing some form of physical, verbal, mental or sexual assault, my answer probably would have been: no/maybe not/only in certain situations.
But that’s the wrong attitude.
Think of this. Imagine the woman you care about most in the world. Imagine they are walking along the street, at a party, in the shops. Imagine they are assaulted. Then imagine there is a bystander, watching what’s happening but not stepping in, even though they could.
What consequences could there be, not just for the person being abused, but for their family and friends?
Now think of this. If you happen to be that bystander and you are witnessing behaviour you can do something about – safely – why wouldn’t you?
Sure, it’s scary, because you don’t want to be the first to make the move, and you don’t know all the details.
But what if you don’t step in? What if the abuse – that friend gossiping; that man cat-calling; that random stranger bailing up your friend at a party – only continues? What sort of effect will that have? What if it gets worse? What if it gets serious?
As part of the MVP course, we watched a video from Who Are You?, a New Zealand-based program educating young people about ethical sexual decision-making and the prevention of sexual violence.
I think it’s a great video because it shows how easily a person can change a course of events; how you can save someone from a dangerous situation without even realising it.
Take the time to watch the whole thing and I guarantee you will come away thinking differently.
Of course, I’m not encouraging you to go out and put yourself in a dangerous position in order to save someone else. However, I am asking you to be more conscious of what’s happening around you.
Is that really how he should treat his girlfriend? Should they really be talking about that girl like that? Was it necessary for those guys to verbally harass that girl in the street?
Remember, the victim is never asking to be abused. It is never the victim’s fault.
We need to shift the focus away from the victim’s actions: “Oh, but she was walking down that street alone”; “She shouldn’t have gone there”; “She should have dressed more appropriately”.
That’s not right. Where are the perpetrators in all this? Why aren’t we talking about them?
And importantly, if by our inaction guys believe they have permission to cat-call and verbally assault girls on the street, how far is the leap to greater and more serious abuse?
I’ll tell you. It’s not far.
If we allow one thing to happen, worse is easily around the corner. If it is okay to gossip and talk negatively about that girl, it makes it easier to do things and act upon things towards that girl.
Mentors in Violence Prevention is all about equipping people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to act. We have the chance to change the direction of some pretty serious stuff.
I attended the course as part of a group of Griffith Honours College students and we emerged at the end of the three days as certified trainers in violence prevention.
We can now go out into the wider university and local community and run information and awareness sessions as well as train others to become trainers in violence prevention.
You can see how this works. From this one course, you can educate and benefit so many others.
The aim at Griffith is to spread the MVP concept throughout the institution and into different study areas and student groups. The more people know, the more they can do.
I would like to start with a second session for the Griffith Honours College and then spread it to the Griffith Business School Student Leadership Program.
From there, if possible, we could run awareness sessions among the non-profit community sector. (The St Vincent de Paul Society has already indicated an interest.)
The most important thing to remember is this: while abuse is all around us and comes in many different forms, we can change how this story ends.
Don’t just stand by; be an active bystander.
(Elise Stephenson is studying a double degree in Asian Studies and Communications)