“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 things we think of first. Why?
This weekend I have been doing a three-day course in violence prevention, courtesy of Shannon Spriggs from Mentors in Violence Prevention. I’m a naturally non-confrontational person, I don’t like getting involved in others’ business, and I’m a pretty small (though strong) girl. If anyone had previously asked me whether I would get involved if I was a bystander 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. And imagine their is a bystander standing by, watching what’s happening but not stepping in even though they could. What consequences would that have, not just for the person being abused, but for their families and friends?
Now, if you happen to be that bystander, if you happen to witness something which you can do something about, safely, why wouldn’t you? Sure, its scary, you don’t want to be the first to make the move, you don’t know all the details. But what if you don’t step in? What if that abuse you witness — that friend gossiping, that man cat-calling or that random stranger bailing up your friend at a party — continues? What sort of effect will that have? What if it gets worse? What if it gets serious?
As part of the program, we watched this video from Who Are You in New Zealand. I think it is a great video as it shows you just how easily you can change the course of events. You could save someone from a dangerous situation without even realising. Spend the time to watch the whole thing. I guarantee you will come away thinking differently.
Now I’m not encouraging you all to go out and put yourself in a dangerous position in order to save someone else. However I am asking you to be more aware and more conscious of things 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? The victim is never asking to be abused. It is never the victim’s fault.
We need to shift the focus. Shift it away from always talking and concentrating on what the victim did in order for this to happen (“oh but she was walking down that street alone”, “she shouldn’t have gone there”, “she should have dressed better”). That’s not right. Where’s the perpetrator in all this? Why aren’t we talking about them? And, importantly, if we give people, guys the permission to cat-call and verbally assault girls on the street (“hey pretty lady”), then 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, a worse thing is easily around the corner. If it is okay to gossip and talk bad about that girl, then it makes it easier to do things and act on things towards that girl.
Mentors in Violence Prevention is all about equipping us as individuals with the knowledge, skills and confidence to act. We have the chance to change the direction of some pretty serious stuff. Initially, this weekend, a group of Griffith University Honours College students have been trained. From here though, we hope to take it further. By Sunday afternoon, my cohort and I will be certified trainers in violence prevention. We can go out to the wider university and local community and run information and awareness sessions as well as train others to be trainers in violence prevention. You can see how this works – from this one session, we are able to educate and benefit many, many more. The aim at Griffith University is to spread it throughout the institution to different study areas and student groups. The more people know, the more people can do. Personally, I would like to start with a second session for Griffith Honours College, spread it to the Griffith Business School Student Leadership Programme, and then if possible run any awareness sessions among the non-profit community sector (the St Vincent de Paul Society has already indicated to me that they would be interested).
The important thing to remember is, abuse is all around us, in all different forms, and we can change how this story ends. Don’t just stand-by, be an active bystander.