The Wellington Sexual Abuse Network (WSAN) is a collaboration between three of the specialist sexual violence intervention agencies in Wellington. Wellington Rape Crisis and Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation provide services to survivors and their support people after sexual violence has happened. Wellstop works with people with sexually harmful behaviour.
You could say the three agencies have a 360° perspective on sexual violence – what supports it, the harm it causes, why people do it, how survivors feel afterwards.
You could also say this brings a unique determination to stopping sexual violence happening in the first place.
That is WSAN’s focus, and, in order to be totally upfront, it’s also my day job. WSAN runs programmes with young people on negotiating mutual, respectful, fun sexual encounters and relationships – programmes which we know reduce sexual and dating violence. We run programmes with bar staff, community police and city council staff with on the street safety roles in how to intervene in precursor situations to sexual violence. We run workshops with secondary school students on safe partying. We go into schools to talk about sexual and dating violence.
“Traditional” sexual violence prevention – or sexual violence prevention in the “western” world informed by the second-wave feminist movement – focused on telling communities about the impacts of sexual violence. How awful it was, how prevalent it was, what it was. The key message was “no means no” – and the key aim was to stop rape happening – by asking men to listen when women said no. (The gendering around this is another blog post discussion, but at this point rape prevention was definitely aimed at the statistically vastly more common male violence against women).
These campaigns were culture-shifting. In Aotearoa and elsewhere, they resulted in significant law changes – like introducing the right for wives to charge their husbands with rape for non-consensual sex (before the law change, consent for every sexual encounter was presumed within marriage) and extending legal protections to male survivors. They led to an increasing number of survivors coming forward to report rape to the Police and to people around them. They made rape and sexual violence a hugely contested social issue, at the heart of which lies a question “who gets to decide who I share my body with?”
These “traditional” campaigns were also highly unsuccessful, much to many feminists disappointment, because they did nothing demonstrable to reduce the rates of sexual violence happening in the first place. It seemed providing information did nothing to change behaviour.
Which is where “who are you?” comes in.
WSAN, alongside a number of other community groups, were part of designing this Radio Network campaign for the Rugby World Cup. It features a video and a number of radio “ads” which run for 60 seconds at a time and tell stories of intervening in sexual violence scenarios. Not heroic stories, but stories where ordinary people step in and look out for one another. No spoilers here, but rest assured they feature a range of different people deciding sexual violence is their business. They will be running for 8 weeks over the Rugby World Cup on Classic Hits, ZM and Radio Sport. The “voice” of the campaign is ZM DJ Grant Kereama.
This campaign is aimed at the public, and the aim is to introduce the idea that we are all responsible for ending sexual violence. That it’s not the “victim’s” fault if they are sexually assaulted. The campaign isn’t saying “it’s not the perpetrator’s fault” – it’s saying it takes a community turning a blind eye to allow sexual violence to flourish the way it does at the moment in Aotearoa New Zealand. And that if our community stops doing this, sexual violence will be dramatically reduced.
This campaign is going to be controversial with many of the general public, because it’s moving the responsibility for sexual violence away from the person targeted. If you doubt that, visit ZM DJ Polly Gillespie’s Facebook page, with 18,000 plus followers, slugging it out over victim-blaming (unanimous victory to those who love Who Are You? so far).
It’s also, already, before the radio ads have been aired, been controversial with feminists, on the grounds that the message “don’t rape people” isn’t part of the campaign. The problem with that message, as I’ve said above, is that there is no evaluation anywhere in the world showing that it works. What evaluations of primary prevention show is that we need to focus on changing behaviour not providing information.
People will intervene – act as “ethical bystanders” – when they recognise a problem and think they have some ideas about what to do about it. The sexual violence sector have been exploring and developing this concept as a way to disrupt rape-supportive social norms and beliefs for about the last six or seven years. Family Planning use it for their work with young men. WSAN is using it in all the work we do now, and it’s why the radio ads and video in Who Are You? feature examples of how to intervene.
Evaluations show the concept works because everyone can relate to it – we’re all bystanders at one time or another – and, while there are all manner of reasons why some people intervene and others do not (gender, culture, ideas of victim responsibility, fear of violence, geographic location etc etc etc), we can substantially increase the likelihood people will intervene.
The “Who Are You?” campaign will be heard by 236,000 radio listeners over the Rugby World Cup. The website is accessible to many more. WSAN usual “ethical bystander” intervention rates for participants after our programmes are one in two. The rate will be lower here, it’s a campaign, not a programme, but say we reduce that by a factor of ten, one in twenty of these listeners intervene in something around them (tell a friend to back off coming onto to someone who’s clearly not consenting, make sure their flatmate gets home ok, stop serving the person in the bar buying their date triples without their consent, check out how drunk the person they’re going home with is etc etc etc etc) we just might have more than 12,000 odd incidents of unwanted, coerced or forced sex – sexual violence – stopped.
Now that’s social change.