A High School auditorium filled with teenagers. Everyone’s face is tense and displays a sense of anxiety as to why they have been asked to assemble, especially when the most unpopular child (not because she is a bully but because she was a survivor of abuse/bullying) is on stage with a Law Enforcement Officer. She starts talking...
“I am a survivor of sexual assault. I felt broken. I was sad, angry. But then what came after - the bullying - I felt like I was underwater, drowning. I want you to know, that what you do, what you say to each other, it hurts. It has consequences you know.” The Officer starts speaking “First of all, I would like to congratulate Mandy for her bravery and courage. We are not here to blame or point fingers. We are not here talk about what could have been. We are here to start a conversation. I would like to invite you all to participate in a simple exercise.” and she stands up. “If you could all just close your eyes and take a second to settle yourselves.” Everyone looks to their neighbours confused and even more scared. The survivor says, “Come on, if I can do it…” and closes her eyes. The rest of them follow the action.
The Officer then goes on to say, “Keeping your eyes closed, I am going to ask you to stand up if you have been hurt by bullying”. A small group of children get up. She continues, “Keeping your eyes closed, stand up if you have been a victim of hazing. If you have ever been hurt by gossip.” Another few join those who are already standing and then she goes on to say, “Stand wp if you have ever been a victim of a sexual assault. Stand up if you have ever been a victim of violence. I would like you to open your eyes and take a look around.” The children are shocked to see that almost the entire auditorium is standing up. She continues to say, “Looking around we can all agree that we are in this together. You have the power to change this by being more accepting, more compassionate. You are not alone.”
Slowly, each child start talking about the incidents that affected them. Some accepted that their inaction to openly stand by those they were close with when they came to them for help was wrong. Some claimed that they were being bullish as they were under the impression that it was the norm and it was how they were funny and cool, but now they realise that they have wronged.
The above narration is from of a recent episode “No Good Reason” from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”. This is a fictional series that has been telecast in the USA and is in its 19th season and started from the year 1999. The episodes are often "ripped from the headlines" or loosely based on real crimes that have received media attention.
Why did I narrate this scene? When I saw this scene, even though I knew it was only a work of fiction, it shook me to the core because it felt like true life incident. It is not uncommon these days to come across news articles on victims of bullying, sexual assault, violence (any kind), gossip/false news, where even loss of life as one of the many consequences. In the last couple of years, there have been numerous trending hashtags including #MeToo, #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen and many more. None of these were restricted to a gender, group, ethnicity, state, or country. It was a worldwide phenomenon impacting each one of us in some way or the other. I fear for the kind of world that we will soon leave behind for our future generations:
- Self-Centric: glued to the gadgets to garner fame on social media, away from human interactions
- Lack of empathy to fellow human beings
- Lack of drive and the intelligence to filter unverified forwards/real news and judging on an impulse
- Lack of basic survival skills
- Inability to have meaningful conversations
- Developing extremely polarised views
How can you Help?
Whether you have been personally affected by any form of violence or abuse, each one of us are part of the problem. We directly or indirectly contribute to the issue by our indifference. I understand that it is difficult to personally interfere and stand up for the one being victimised every time you witness such incident, but there might be other ways by which you can at least be supportive.
- When the victim comes to you for help (in any form),
- Being there for the person by empathising with them
- Not being judgemental
- By providing a listening ear when they go through the healing process.
- Awareness about the local laws of the land and registering such misdeeds or mishaps
- Alert the Emergency services giving clear instructions to the location of the incident and/or approach the right authorities and appraise them appropriately.
- Connecting with our children, peers and elders who are in your social circle of influence about:
- The difference between a joke and a “rude” joke, at the cost of attacking someone’s self esteem or dignity.
- The importance of standing up for what is right
- To be socially aware and responsible for the consequences of our words and actions including, leaving behind responsible digital footprints (e.g. comments you make in social media)
- Having simple “home rules” to facilitate healthy conversations
- This can be a specific time of day say, Dinner, without gadgets where the whole family sits together and shares their views. This can help develop a healthy habit of being open to different viewpoints, and reduces polarisation of thoughts and learn how to ‘agree to disagree’ politely.
Here are some interesting videos that addresses harassment and doing the right thing in small but impactful ways:
- Harassment on local transport
- Handling Sexual Harassment at Work
- Domestic Abuse - Women Safety Begins at Home
- Stop Bullying - Everyone Can Help
- I'm Really Sorry - A movie on Bullying
I am sure if all of us work with all sincerity to acknowledge the problem and then think of more creative ways to overcome such issues, the “Elephant in the room” can be addressed.