Monday 23 September 2019

New campaign to alert people to 'grey areas' of unwanted sexual encounters

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Stock photo
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

The Department of Justice is launching a million-euro awareness campaign to tackle the "grey areas" of unwanted sexual advances.

As Joe Biden makes headlines worldwide for his overly familiar style of touching, the national office for the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (COSC)is gearing up to highlight and advise on a range of unwanted sexual encounters and abusive behaviour that people are slow to stop or report.

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The campaign will run across prime-time television and radio and on social media and will provide information on how onlookers can safely intervene when they witness inappropriate behaviour.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Greg Heylin, principal officer of Cosc, said the three-year campaign would make people sit up and think.

"We need to change people's attitude," he said. "We will be looking at the kind of stories people tell when they see things that might be sexual violence.

"We have five vignettes, starting from an experience that would seem quite mild to a situation that is extremely serious.

"In one ad, for example, we have a young intern in the office and an older boss who comes along and starts massaging their shoulders."

In another, he says, "a couple are at a party and he wants to go upstairs and she doesn't. This is coercion. We will look at the whole gradation - from the intern being massaged to the implied rape about to happen.

"The grey area is, what do you do - because what are you seeing?" he said.

"It's very hard to give hard and fast resolutions to situations but we will be attempting to give some indicative guidelines on how people might intervene.

"We want to alert people to keep their eyes open, make judgments when they see things happening and ask themselves what can they do."

The campaign will promote the three Ds of response: direct intervention, delegation and distraction.

Mr Heylin said: "You can directly intervene and say, 'Hang on a minute now, back off'. But it mightn't always be safe and appropriate to do so.

"If you are another junior person in the office, for example, you mightn't feel comfortable to say it to the person's face - but you could refer it to HR.

"That brings us to delegation. You can delegate it to someone else. You can tell HR there is an issue or you might go to a bouncer if you see something happening in a nightclub.

"We always want people to be safe in what they're doing. If it's serious, you can talk to the guards."

A third way to respond was distraction, said Mr Heylin. "For example, if you see someone involved in something on the street, you can say 'Excuse me, do you know what bus I can get to Ringsend?' or 'Do you have the time?' - just to break the tension."

In early December, a study carried out by Coyne Research to benchmark awareness and attitudes regarding sexual violence and abuse found that fewer than half of all people were "very clear" about what constituted sexual violence and abuse.

Meanwhile, only 58pc said they would be likely to intervene if the victim was a stranger, while 38pc of people said they would not intervene because they would not know what to do.

The campaign follows the What Would You Do? advertising campaign launched by Cosc in 2016.

That campaign asked those who witnessed domestic violence if they would intervene to help.

Sunday Independent

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