Calling out sexism

Students learn how to call out sexism at Victoria University 

By VicHealth and contributors

Most of us like to think we’d call out sexism and sexually harassing behaviour.

When faced with a situation, one voice inside our head says that sort of behaviour isn’t right. But another voice prompts us to avoid confrontation, and that’s often the one we follow.

Especially if the person being inappropriate is in a position of authority or the leader of the group.

VicHealth research shows a staggering 78 per cent of survey respondents say they would intervene if they saw sexism and sexually harassing behaviour, but only 46 per cent report actually doing something.


Action to reduce sexism and sexually harassing behaviour

Carmelina Monea

Postgraduate student, Carmelina Monea says: “When I started at Victoria University I might not have called out inappropriate behaviour, but my attitude has changed.”

The difference between then and now is that she’s learnt how to be an active bystander; a person who witnesses inappropriate behaviour and does something to show it’s not OK.

Three years ago, the student union asked Victoria University to develop a program to promote gender equality, which became the Bystander Awareness and Action e-learning program.

“I was motivated to help with this project because I’m a survivor of domestic violence and I know first-hand how inequalities between men and women can lead to violence,” Monea said.

“I also know those inequalities are kept alive by sexist jokes and disrespectful behaviour towards women.”


Educating students on how to be an active bystander



Marian Cronin, VU’s Senior Manager, Respect & Responsibility said she’s impressed with the student leadership group who co-designed the e-learning program.

Cronin says: “The inappropriate behaviour scenarios we’ve used in the program feel authentic because they’re based on real experiences of the students involved.”

The program includes quotes from students who’ve successfully completed the program to demonstrate how to call it out, such as the young man who said: “One day on public transport there was a man pestering and I intervened…Without the knowledge of this module, this is something I wouldn’t have done.”


Measuring success

In 2018, VicHealth and the Victorian government’s Office for Women funded a trial of the e-learning program, to find the best way to give bystanders the confidence to act.

Cronin says that almost six hundred students chose to do the voluntary bystander training, as part of the randomised control trial. And, whilst more research is required to demonstrate if the training alone can move participants from commitment to action, those who did participate found the content valuable.

“Research shows that making training like this mandatory can cause backlash so the challenge for all of us working in the higher education sector is to find ways to encourage students to participate and engage hearts and minds for a better society, free of sexual harassment,” Cronin said.

“Face-to-face training is already happening for students and staff but, based on this research, we’ll be looking at including email messaging to support our programs in the future.”

As work continues, the team has received direct support for Respect and Responsibility from the Vice Chancellor and the VU community.

“Victoria University is such a great environment and several people in the original co-design group have continued to work towards gender equality in their jobs,” Monea said.

“And, on a personal note, it has really helped me with my healing process.”



Encouraging your staff or students to call it out

For more information on developing bystander initiatives in your organisation, go to:


Bystander action toolkit for all organisations


Bystander action toolkit for sporting associations

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