Amelia Posen | Senior School Captain | Senior School Assembly Speech | 7 May 2021
For those of you who follow the news, names like Grace Tame, Christian Porter and Brittany Higgins will all ring the same bell in your minds. Allegations of sexual assault and harassment have dominated news stories this year. Figures suggest that 1 in 3 women in Australia will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.
Let me make that real for you. Look at the girls around you and count three of them. One of them will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime and mostly it will be perpetrated by someone that they already know - a friend, a colleague, someone that they believe they can trust, someone that they should be able to trust.
The questions that are being asked at every level are, ‘what exactly is the problem?’, and ‘how did we get here?” and, most importantly, ‘how do we fix it?’ We fix it by doing our very best to make sure that no one in the future experiences sexual or physical violence, and to do this a number of things need to change.
On a very basic level, it is about converting attitudes of selfishness and entitlement to ones of kindness, compassion and basic respect for human dignity. The attitude of entitlement depicted in sexual assault cases is not how most of us act in other aspects of our everyday lives. We ask our friends before we borrow their things. We ask what everyone else wants to watch before we put on a movie. We ask what our friends want for dinner before ordering. We do this because our needs are not more important than those of others around us.
We deal with these negotiations in micro moments throughout every single day, so why would we not do the same in our most intimate relationships? Surely this is the time at which the most care should be taken - when we are dealing with our bodies and what we do with them. What you want is not more important than what your partner wants. And the answer is not to simply tell victims to take better care of themselves or not put themselves in dangerous situations.
I consider myself a pretty staunch feminist and a person who speaks out against injustice and I thought I would always be able to stand up for myself. However, when I was sexually harassed at my part time job on a number of occasions, I said nothing and quit without a word. I do not say this to evoke pity, I say this because I know how this experience made me feel.
Despite the jokes I still continue to make about it to my close friends, I felt embarrassed, ashamed, demeaned, stupid and above all, terrified. Even when I told my mum and she wanted to confront the business owner, my first instinct was to minimise and question my own experience. What is more scary, is that I know my experiences are minor in comparison to what others have gone through, so I cannot begin to imagine the pain and emotional turmoil that they must face.
Some of you may have heard of the “Not All Men” response to this issue. As in, “not all men do these terrible things.” It’s true. And no one would suggest otherwise. There are amazing, wonderful, kind men in all our lives. But as the Brisbane Boys Grammar Captain said in his speech to his peers last term, ‘if you have stayed silent or not called out the issue, then you are part of the problem.’ By staying quiet, you are implicitly endorsing the behaviour. And this goes for women too. When we don’t call out our male or female friends who contribute to this issue, because we don’t want to seem precious or uncool, we are also a part of the problem.
This shouldn’t be about men against women, this is about men and women standing together, in mutual respect, united against this problem. It’s time to change the narrative. What we need it to be is “All Men”, as in:
All the Men I know support women.
All the Men I know don’t objectify or demean women.
All the Men I know care about whether their partner consents
All the Men I know have a deep respect for human dignity.
All the Men I know call out others who don’t show respect to women.
All the Men I know are people that I can trust.
And on a side note, in case you’re wondering how my situation turned out - when my mum did speak to my boss despite my protests, he was horrified and appalled, making immediate changes to that particular workplace and said that he had wished I had come directly to him when it happened.
So the message is this, there are good people who will listen and champion this cause, if we speak up. And when we speak up, we do so not only for ourselves but those who do not have a voice or are incapable of using their voices. We need to speak up. We must speak up.