People just like you

In light of the Instagram poll highlighting the prevalence of sexual assault in high schools, Anna Grummitt asks: what can be done?

This week, I read with horror the harrowing testimonies from the flood of young women who responded to an Instagram poll from Kambala graduate Chanel Contos.

The poll asked: “Have you or has anyone close to you ever experienced sexual assault from someone who went to an all-boys’ school?” 72% of respondents replied ‘yes’.

What can explain this? Is the culture of some private schools just incredibly toxic? Is the lack of early education on consent the problem? Or the easy access to hardcore porn? Or is it “passive leadership and wilful blindness at a community and national level”, as Wenona Principal Briony Scott powerfully argued this week?

Likely all these things, and more. So, what can actually be done?
Some, including our PM, might implore boys and men to ask themselves: How would you feel if this was your daughter or sister? But surely a better way is to see women simply as fellow human beings, and thus inherently valuable.

The evidence that this isn’t actually a given is all around us. Historically, the intrinsic worth of all people has rested on the idea that all bear the image of God (although plenty who claim to believe that have found ways to ignore it in practice).

Oxford Professor Alister McGrath says, “The way in which we see somebody else determines the way we behave towards them. So if I were to see somebody simply as a commodity or something that’s there for my convenience, I’m going to exploit them. If I see them as bearing God’s image, then I’ve got to respect them.”

There’s no ‘quick fix’ to reducing sexual assault. But as Asher Learmonth, head prefect at Cranbrook, found it necessary to remind his classmates: “Women are people just like you.” We won’t get anywhere without that foundation stone.