Bystander or stand by her? A true campus story

By Joanne Monisse

It is expected when we step on campus we should experience a level of safety and security, but there is a level of responsibly which falls onto each of us to ensure safety can be experienced by all.

We live in an age of fear. Afraid to live the life we want, be who we really are and to stand up to the injustices we see and experience in our everyday life.  

Recently, a stranger came into Building 80 and harassed a student.

She was sitting outside the café working on her assignment when the stranger came up to her and asked is she’d like to dance. Perhaps he was envisioning he was on Dancing With the Stars as he giddily swayed back and forth. She politely declined to dance with the stranger, after all the mood wasn’t set (being 10 a.m.) and the guy was high enough that if the wind turned, she would be in a precarious situation. But then again, she already knew she was in one.

As the spectators waited in the wings, continuously missing their cue, the situation escalated as the stranger became increasingly aggressive towards her. After she asked him to leave and he refused, she packed up her belongings to move away but he followed her, shouting. Fed up, her fight-response kicked in an she turned around and stood her ground. With authority she demanded for him to “leave this building right now!”.  

He leaves.

She returns to where she was sitting and continues her work on her laptop.

The spectators then approach her to see if she is alright.

Anyone see the issue here?

Why come up after the event to help and see if someone is alright?

What if this was you? Could you have handled a situation where someone was harassing you?

Harassment is something most people will never experience during their time at RMIT. But it does occur.  

Sitting at the northern edge of the Hoddle grid, RMIT is firmly embedded within the city. Students are fortunate to have 24-hour security services with knowledge of certain campus hot-spots where undesirables frequent and will heavily surveille these spots due to the risk to student safety. But it would be unreasonable to expect a 30 second response time should an incident occur. Afterall, the campus spans over six city blocks.

Lisa Negri, from RMIT’s Safer Community, says RMIT “is a porous campus” as its doors are open to the public.

“Whether it is the intention or not, it is open to the public – and with that, open to risk,” Lisa said.

Safer Community and Security focus on providing advice, support, and in security’s case, response to issues that threaten the safety and well-being of students. While Lisa jokes her role “isn’t to come flying down” should a stranger be harassing a student, the Safer Community team assists students who are experiencing or displaying threatening and inappropriate behavior – particularly if it relates to sexual harm.

Bystander behavior is an issue Lisa has noticed becoming more prevalent on campus. While RMIT’s Safer Community campaign targets bystander behavior in the context of sexual harassment, the activities and skills can be applied to anywhere a person is being subjected to inappropriate behavior.

In an emergency situation, the bystander effect discourages individuals from intervening. But this is exactly what Lisa prescribes to be the antidote as “once someone intervenes, others will follow” – but only if it is safe to do so.

But as to the situation experienced by the student in Building 80, Lisa said she would have expected bystanders to have contacted security.

“They could have contacted security or someone else for assistance. They can also, if they feel comfortable, intervene. I wouldn’t expect them to if they didn’t feel comfortable, but if they did feel comfortable, they could intervene”.

Connecting with Campus Security or Emergency support can be done through the Safezone app. With only 5,000 downloads, it is possibly a hidden tool missing from a student’s arsenal of safety and convenience services. With only three buttons that are colour-coded, it’s a fool proof way to alert security whether an incident requires ‘security’ or ‘emergency’ services without becoming physically involved in an incident. After all, your own safety is important too.

Respect is a core value within our society and RMIT’s Safer Community are trying to build and strengthen our campus so respect can be felt and shared by all.  Safer Community is running a number of workshops to equip students to be more proactive when they are a bystander to inappropriate behavior.

Despite RMIT’s doors being open to the public, let’s look after each other and keep our recreational spaces and campus safe and enjoyable for everyone.
*Should you require further information on any of the services available on RMIT Campus, visit https://www.rmit.edu.au/students/support-and-facilities/safezone

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Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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