Once again the Big Brother program is
embroiled in controversy and there are calls to have it taken off air following
an incident of sexual misconduct in the house.

Unfortunately, a lot of the criticisms
conflate two very different issues. The first kind of criticism, which is
frequently levelled at the show, is rooted in socially conservative moral
objections to a show in which young people live together, shower together and
talk in sexually explicit ways. The second, quite separate, issue is the
question of what rules apply in the house and of how the producers manage any
incidents of alleged sexual assault, harassment or bullying.

As someone who was involved in reviewing
the house rules relating to sex, gender and ethics this year and who spent time
working with the producers to discuss how they should deal with hypothetical
misconduct, I was heartened to see that they acted quickly to remove the two men
involved from the house. They also offered the woman full access to
confidential counselling and an opportunity to take any action she wanted.
Their response was important for two reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, it
was critical that the woman involved was given every support. But just as
importantly, the producers were telling the viewers that a line had been
crossed and that there’s never any excuse for uninvited sexual behaviour.

Big Brother has an enormous audience of
young men and women who actively debate the rights and wrongs of what goes on
in the house. They’re exactly the audience to whom we want to be getting the message
out about the need to be really sure you have consent in sexual situations.
If any good can come out of an incident like this, it’s that the Big Brother
audience will be contemplating this issue because it’s one which directly affects
so many of them.

Catharine Lumby worked with Karen
Willis, the Director of Rape Crisis NSW,
to advise the producers of Big Brother on gender, sex and ethics. Fees were
donated to Rape Crisis.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey