Trigger warning: This piece contains reference to sexual violence.
Sexual violence is receiving more widespread media attention in recent times. Coverage of Jill Meagher, the Steubenville High School students, the Adelaide physiotherapist who was accused of raping a patient during home visits and the gang rape of a 23 year old Indian student in Delhi all point towards the growing attention sexual violence is receiving in the community. Public reaction to these cases – particularly the Delhi incident which caused widespread protest – has taken the form of an increase in campaigns and public support for a transformation of how people view sexual violence.
What seems clear is that the issue of sexual assault is not going away any time soon. The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety, Australia Survey (undertaken in 2005) recorded that over 100,000 Australian women and almost 45,000 men experienced an incident of sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the survey.
The same survey found that 29.5% of people who had experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months were between 18-24 years old.
It was also found that there is little to no difference in rates of sexual violence across socio-economic groups, indicating that it is as prevalent in privileged – often university- educated – communities as it is in more disadvantaged communities. This makes the issue directly relevant to university students. Sexual violence statistics show rates are not declining. Similar to the 2005 survey, the 1996 Women’s Safety Survey indicated 100,000 women had experienced sexual violence in the 12 months prior to the study. We can only assume rates are relatively stable for other victims as well. Thus it is clear the structural issues inherent in our society that cause sexual violence have not been adequately identified or addressed.
Recognising the need for greater public awareness of this issue, a group of students have launched a campaign aiming to raise awareness and to put an end to sexual violence in our community. Stand Up is a campaign designed and implemented by a group of students involved with the Environment and Social Justice Collective at Monash University. The official week of the campaign was held during week ten of semester one. You might have seen some of the posters around Monash. We encourage you to share the images online and talk to your friends about them.
It is often not acknowledged that the vast majority of incidents of sexual assault occur by somebody the victim already knows. The stereotypical image of the man in a trench coat waiting in the bushes doesn’t actually match up with reality. The campaign seeks to highlight the fact that these things happen in our communities, at our parties and to our friends more often than we might think, and that we must do more to stop it from happening. We want to raise literacy about what kinds of acts constitute sexual violence, behaviour ranging from sexual harassment, unwanted kissing or sexual touching, through to sexual pressure, coercion, or forced sexual activity, and to create conversations around acceptable alternative behaviours.
Instead of victim blaming, we need to take both individual and collective responsibility for how we interact with others and how we as a society treat and support survivors of sexual assault. Questions that we often ask ourselves working on this campaign is: would we know how to intervene if we saw something happening? Would we be able to confront our friends? Would we be able to confront a stranger if we thought that the situation was urgent? These are conversations that we will need to start having if we are serious about preventing sexual violence and creating safer communities.
For counseling and support for those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone who has, contact CASA house http:// www.casahouse.com.au or call the Victorian Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292.
For counseling, support and advice on campus, you can visit the Health & Wellbeing HUB’s counselling service http://www.monash. edu.au/counselling/ or contact the Safer Community Unithttp://www.adm.monash. edu.au/safercommunity/. Both are free and confidential.
For more information about our campaign visit www.stand-up.org.au