The Slightly Disgruntled Scientist

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ThinkUKnow: New Government Initiative to Blame Victims Everywhere

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I first discovered this video campaign, created by the government sponsored “internet safety program” ThinkUKnow, via Sexting and Slut-Shaming on Hoyden About Town. The more I thought about it, the more incensed I became (which is fairly unusual for me, as the incandescent rage that usually powers my ranting tends to saturate quite quickly).

Recently I have had cause to reflect upon sexual harassment and the effects that it can have on a person. As I mention in the email below, while I don’t see it every day, it’s damn near impossible to work in a technical field without encountering it at some point.

But that didn’t quite explain my unusually visceral response to this, and eventually I realised that there’s another reason that it touched such a nerve with me — it recalled an incident during high school when a female student was mercilessly bullied under vaguely similar circumstances. I found it absolutely disgusting at the time, and I can still recall my frustration at being unable to do much more than be a bystander. (It kind of scares me that my brain can throw up the emotional response a good day or two before the memory itself. I know a neurosurgeon-in-training, maybe I can get them to take a look at that for me.)

Of course, this little anecdote should not be taken as a disclaimer or qualifier for my letter. My reaction to that incident years ago was driven by the same thing that prompted me to write this email to ThinkUKnow today, and I mean every word of it.


This concerns the “Megan” video, part of the “ThinkUKnow” campaign, available at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwKgg35YbC4

I am compelled to express just how offended and angry I have become over the recent “ThinkUKnow Sexting Educational Video”, featuring a young girl “Megan”. Megan sends a picture of herself (of an unspecified but clearly sexual nature) to a classmate, only to have it repeatedly sent on from student to student and eventually the teacher. The video ends with Megan running from the classroom in shame.

This is a deeply offensive ad for several reasons, and it disturbs me that it was linked to “White Balloon Day” — a cause that aims to break the silence over child sexual abuse. One of the biggest challenges faced by such a cause is helping victims to overcome their own sense of guilt and shame arising from someone else’s actions — and yet this is the very attitude you incite and perpetuate through this video.

As a young man who works in science and engineering, I have seen more than a couple of incidents of sexual harassment and discrimination, targeted exclusively towards women and designed to bully, humiliate and alienate. I have heard of many, many more from friends who have been bystanders like myself or victims of this behaviour. Most likely the incident is ignored by everyone except the victim and accepted as inevitable. No blame attaches to whoever commits the crime, because “boys will be boys.” But if the source of the harassment is called on their actions by a colleague, then every time — EVERY TIME — the victim is blamed. “If she didn’t want to attract those kind of comments/that kind of attention, SHE shouldn’t dress like that/act like that/work here at all.”

Your video reinforces exactly that culture.

The real crime shown in the “Megan” video is sexual harassment. It is an actual crime. People can be taken to court over it. It is a crime because the majority of Australians hold that it is not acceptable behaviour. And in this film, all but a few people are guilty of it. But where is their comeuppance? When do we see their public shaming at having something like that on their record? Or — and I realise I’m going out on a limb here — when do we see their remorse at hurting another human being? Every character in that video is completely responsible for how they act, and yet only the consequences for Megan are shown.

It is also worth noting that the only figure of authority in this video is the teacher. How does he react to being sent pornography involving a student? Is it to take the students to task for harassing and bullying a student? Is it to notify the authorities because an actual crime has been committed? No, not only does he fail in this regard, he is ALSO borderline complicit in the blatant sexual harassment of a student! (Do we see him getting disciplined for this? …No.)

Imagine a drink-driving ad that showed a pedestrian being run over, the car zooming away, and then a caption that said “Watch where you’re walking, pedestrians.” Wouldn’t it be deeply offensive to anyone who’s ever fallen victim or lost someone to a drunk driver? Wouldn’t it be seen by habitual drunk drivers as tacit endorsement of their behaviour?

I seriously doubt that you would ever endorse such an ad, and yet the “ThinkUKnow” video is far worse — on top of blaming the victim and endorsing the perpetrators, it reinforces a culture where young women are expected to be ashamed of their sexuality and are charged with protecting their dignity and physical integrity against someone whose behaviour can simply be dismissed as predictable and left unpunished.

Is that your aim for this ad? To basically tell people that sexual harassment is fine for everyone except the silly victim, who should have seen it coming? That it’s acceptable at every level of authority? That Megan will run out of the room crying and everyone can get on with laughing at her or forget it ever happened? The entire point of this video is to make potential victims internalise the shame of “Megan”, and completely avoids making potential perpetrators internalise actual responsibility for not committing a crime!

I strongly suggest that you reconsider this ad, especially given that it is targeted towards children and young adults who will be forming the core of their ideas about of individual responsibility, acceptable social interaction, sexuality and ethical sexual behaviour.

Yours sincerely,
Jason Heeris

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