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Over the past year in the USA, a new scheme has been rolled out across universities to try and educate students on how to react if they witness a sexual assault. The ‘Green Dot’ initiative aims to establish a confident dialogue with students that gives them appropriate advice which can be applied to numerous situations. Whether it’s hearing sexually degrading comments in public, or actually witnessing a violent crime, the programme provides support that can help. And statistics report that after Green Dot has finished on campus, sex related crimes have been reduced by up to 50%.
People are now calling for the scheme to be trialled in the UK, starting with universities in the West. If it is successful, this sort of training will be offered across all universities as a way of reducing the amount of sexual assaults and harassments that are recorded on campus.
There has obviously been some question of safety in regard to intervening at all. Recently, a woman in Germany was bludgeoned to death after she stepped in to try and stop a young man from harassing two women in McDonalds. Obviously, this is an extreme example. But it does beg the question as to how safe getting involved in these situations actually is.
It is important to think not only of your own wellbeing, but that of the victim. Sometimes, getting involved may just aggravate the situation further, and do more harm than good. Something as simple as offering your support to a victim of harassment can be enough. Calling them a taxi or sitting with them at the bus stop can be enough tomake them feel just a little safer.
If you do witness a violent crime, I wouldn’t recommend just wading in. The best thing to do in those sorts of situations is to call campus security or the police. It is definitely important to think about your own safety, but not to the extent that you leave someone else in a dangerous situation.
Small steps can make big impacts. Questioning misogynist jokes in a university setting might seem daunting, especially if there are a large group of rowdy lads, but is important that these things aren’t seen as appropriate. ‘Lad culture’ has perpetuated an environment which makes young people think it’s okay to make comments that are derogatory or offensive in the name of humour. Making it known that these statements aren’t appropriate is one small step closer to a society that doesn’t allow potentially dangerous behaviour.
There’s then the question of whether we should be doing more to tackle this problem at its root. Yes, it’s important to give people the right knowledge to deal with the problem, but it’s also important to address the underlying causes of these incidents. Particularly at university, where young people are constantly learning about themselves, there is a distinct need to nip sexism in the bud. Universities should have systems in place to educate and protect their students.
There are examples of institutions that already do this. Nearly half of all Oxbridge colleges have included ‘sexual consent’ classes on their induction timetables. These short classes include information on what consent actually means, which seems to be a slightly blurry line for some.
Teaching people about things such as sexual assault, harassment, and consent is an important way to tackle the current problem branded as ‘rape culture’ in the UK. If there is more information available to young people, it may be easier for them to monitor their own behaviour and make more responsible decisions. I’m not saying educating students is a surefire way to eliminate harassment entirely, but from the success of Green Dot we can see that it is certainly make a big difference.