IN response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s national report on sexual assault and harassment at Australian universities, Charles Sturt University recently rolled out an innovative face-to-face program, Playing Right, that educated new students and student leaders about issues of sexual consent and bystander response.
Student initiatives co-ordinator and Residence Life staff member Isabel Fox collaborated with members of the Bathurst community, including Headspace’s community and youth engagement co-ordinator Karen Golland, in providing a targeted and upbeat program that informed students about what constitutes sexual assault and harassment, and how to respond when one’s safety, or one’s friend’s safety, is at risk.
This directly addresses a key finding in the AHRC report that many victims and bystanders did not know how to respond or who to contact when confronted with sexual misconduct.
What is also innovative about the program is that it focuses on perpetrator prevention and education and this once more directly responds to data revealing that unacceptable behaviour occurs when people don’t really know the rules.
According to the report findings, men were overwhelmingly the perpetrators, so the idea is to empower young men to be responsible for their own actions and encourage them to watch out for their mates too and help them to make positive choices around sex and relationships.
Playing Right’s targeted message shifts the perspective by making aggressors accountable and also visible.
Many, if not all, sexual harassment and assault programs are written from the victim’s perspective, which can tacitly and sometimes explicitly put blame on them.
The familiarity of such phrases as “she was wearing a short skirt” or “she was drunk” are excuses that ultimately blame victims.
Such attitudes can make the traumatic experience of being assaulted or harassed all the more devastating.
CSU’s Playing Right is not some generic online sexual assault and harassment learning module, adopted by so many Australian universities, it is rather an intelligent and community-based initiative that promises to deliver lasting results.