I spoke briefly at VicHealth’s More Than Ready launch last week. Thought I’d share what I said:
Talking about sexual assault is very hard to do. Admitting that you were raped is terrifying.
What if the person you tell laughs? Or dismisses what you say? Or blames you for what happened?
These reactions to a disclosure of sexual assault are not only devastating – they entrench, they repeat, the harm caused by the rapist.
How we respond to sexual assault, to sexual harassment matters tremendously.
Likewise, how we respond to sexism and the more subtle ways of degrading women – like sexist jokes – also matters tremendously.
Sexual assault can only occur when someone decides to abuse a position of trust. Sexual assault is a social crime – a fundamental violation of the social contract. That is why how we respond socially to sexual assault matters so much.
When society responds supportively – trust can be rebuilt. When society does not take up this responsibility, then it confirms to the victim that they cannot trust, that they are not safe, that they are alone in dealing with the devastating consequences of rape.
When we respond to sexual assault we must be clear: we must support victims.
The shame and the blame of sexual assault, the responsibility for sexual assault, must be put where they belong – with the rapist.
There is only ever one person responsible for rape – and that is the rapist.
Society, each and every one of us, we must stand with the victims, we must support victims, we must make our allegiances clear.
We do not support rape. We do not support sexism. We do not support violence.
How do we do this?
We speak out when we witness sexism. We speak up for victims and their rights to dignity and safety. When someone tells a sexist joke – we don’t laugh. We say clearly – ‘hey, that crossed the line.’
When we witness sexism – we must make two choices. We must condemn those who commit such behaviour. We must hold them responsible and make our distaste clear.
And we must stand with the victims. We must show our support. We must check they are ok and find out what we can do to help.
Jokes about violence and comments that blame the victim are harmful for everyone, not just for victims. When a bystander chooses speaks up, and say ‘I don’t agree’, they stand up against sexism, they stand up for respect and they make us all safer.
Violence is never acceptable – not in actions and not in words. We are all entitled to dignity, respect and safety.
Bystander prevention is one way we can make these values real. The research VicHealth are launching today makes it very clear how powerful, and how important, our intervention, our voices can be in preventing violence against women.
Here is one strong and simple way we can all be part of creating a safer and healthier society for all Victorians.
It is everyone’s responsibility. It is up to each of us to say: we do not support sexism. We do not support violence in any of its forms. Let’s make our allegiances clear.
- To read the full VicHealth More Than Ready research report on Bystander Prevention of Violence Against Women, or a research summary, click here
- To be part of bystander prevention yourself – speak up when you witness sexism. Yes, it can be awkward and a bit uncomfortable. Yes, it takes courage. But know that most of us are with you. Most of us do not think sexism is okay. Most of us either speak up or want to, already. Your courage, your willingness to take on that awkward moment, will make more of us feel comfortable, relieved and safe. It will make a difference. It’s worth it.